Book Review: Kabul Beauty School, by Deborah Rodriguez

I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down. I think it is very well-written, contrary to some reviewers who think otherwise. The narrator’s voice remains in character, and the language flows nicely. Though the writing is conversational, it does not succumb to the repetitions and irrelevant interjections that cause actual conversations to become boring.

This book is as much personal memoir as it is an account of how the Kabul Beauty School developed. The author’s personality weaves in and out of her environment in a fascinating account of cultural conflict, cultural engagement, and the remarkably unpredictable results that emerge when people do not let go of their own cultural orientation while trying to function in foreign country.

Deborah retains her American perspective on just about everything; she continues to smoke and drink in a Muslim society, looks forward to celebrating Christmas, and feels little need to adjust her behavior with men in deference to the prevailing attitude of quiet feminine subservience. In this way, she is different from the authors who accept the religious and cultural attitudes of their adopted countries.

At the same time, Deborah becomes profoundly involved with many of the women who attend the beauty school. She also marries an Afghan man, only a few weeks after she met him, and in spite of the fact that neither speaks the other’s language. Many readers will frown upon a protagonist who makes such a vital decision based upon none of the commonly accepted parameters that predict marital happiness, but this decision, probably more than her other decisions, displays her personality perfectly. She is a risk-taker, and willing to assume the consequences.

One wonders how it has fared over the years, but I suspect both of them will accept the influences over which neither has much control to strengthen or dissolve the marriage.

The beauty school closes and opens, and closes again, amidst accusations and rumors regarding what Deborah did or didn’t do with respect to taxes and other aspects of the business. Who knows, certainly not the reader of this book, but none of that is important to the purpose of the book, which is exactly what Deborah says it is– an account of the terrible circumstances of the lives of Afghan women, and how the beauty school gave some of them a chance to develop themselves in a way that most women of the world take for granted


6 responses

  1. I read this book a couple years ago after stumbling across it in my local library. I also enjoyed her story as it was an interesting way for me to learn more about another culture. It’s often fun seeing places through Americans’ eyes. I liked her risk-taking ways. I’m glad you enjoyed the story as well. Nice to read this review!

  2. Salaam, brother Issam, thank you so much for asking about me. I’m fine, have been busy but I’d like to post here with more consistency. Ramadan Kareem to you and your loved ones!

  3. You are welcome sister. I wish you a blessed Ramadan. What do you plan to do during the month? Any changes to your routine? Do you fast by the way?

  4. I am reading this book now, my sister-in-law passed it on without really comment on it. It is interesting but I cannot get past the fact that she COMPLETELY abandoned her children! She barely comments on them – she ditched them and dropped them in her mon’s lap without a look back. That bothers me so much I don’t even want to finish this. She’s helping out these women in Kabul, but Debbie sucks as a mom.

  5. I wonder whether she actually “abandoned” her kids. Granted, she left them, but she didn’t elaborate the circumstances, if I remember correctly. In writing a memoir, an author must emphasize certain themes and de-emphasize others. I’d like to think her kids were perfectly OK with the separation, maybe even better off. We don’t know.

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