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Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil Hardcover – April 10, 2007

4.0 out of 5 stars 258 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. A terrific opening chapter—colorful, suspenseful, funny—ushers readers into the curious closed world of Afghan women. A wedding is about to take place, arranged, of course, but there is a potentially dire secret—the bride is not technically a virgin. How Rodriguez, an admirably resourceful and dynamic woman, set to marry a nice Afghan man, solves this problem makes a great story, embellished as it is with all the traditional wedding preparations. Rodriguez went to Afghanistan in 2002, just after the fall of the Taliban, volunteering as a nurse's aide, but soon found that her skills as a trained hairdresser were far more in demand, both for the Western workers and, as word got out, Afghans. On a trip back to the U.S., she persuaded companies in the beauty industry to donate 10,000 boxes of products and supplies to ship to Kabul, and instantly she started a training school. Political problems ensued ("too much laughing within the school"), financial problems, cultural misunderstandings and finally the government closed the school and salon—though the reader will suspect that the endlessly ingenious Rodriguez, using her book as a wedge against authority, will triumph in the end. This witty and insightful (if light) memoir will be perfect for women's reading groups and daytime talk shows. (Apr. 10)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–In 2002, just months after the Taliban had been driven out of Afghanistan, Rodriguez, a hairdresser from Holland, MI, joined a small nongovernmental aid organization on a mission to the war-torn nation. That visit changed her life. In Kabul, she chronicles her efforts to help establish the country's first modern beauty school and training salon; along with music and kite-flying, hairdressing had been banned under the previous regime. This memoir offers a glimpse into a world Westerners seldom see–life behind the veil. Rodriguez was entranced with the delightful personalities that emerged when her students removed their burqas behind closed doors, but her book is also a tale of empowerment–both for her and the women. In a city with no mail service, she went door-to-door to recruit students from clandestine beauty shops, and there were constant efforts to shut her down. She had to convince Afghan men to work side by side with her to unpack cartons of supplies donated from the U.S. The students, however, are the heroines of this memoir. Women denied education and seldom allowed to leave their homes found they were able to support themselves and their families. Rodriguez's experiences will delight readers as she recounts such tales as two friends acting as parents and negotiating a dowry for her marriage to an Afghan man or her students puzzling over a donation of a carton of thongs. Most of all, they will share her admiration for Afghan women's survival and triumph in chaotic times.–Pat Bangs, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 275 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (April 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400065593
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400065592
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (258 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #318,827 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Anita Anand on June 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
A work of non-fiction Deborah Rodriguez's book could almost be fictional. Only that it isn't. It's a story about determination, challenge, love and heartache. It is the story of an American woman who catapulted herself from Holland, Michigan to Kabul, Afghanistan.

A maverick by nature, Rodriguez came to Afghanistan in 2002, with an American non-governmental organization (NGO) trained in emergencies. Also gregarious by nature, Rodriguez very early on turned her attention to befriending Afghans who spoke some English. Her checkered background in multitasking and a rich personal life helped her in being sought after what was badly need in Kabul - hairdressing. With this, she developed a deep bond with Afghan women, who were just coming out of the tyranny of living under the Taliban. Their heart rending stories are told poignantly by Rodriguez, throughout the book.

I lived in Kabul for a month in 2004 and for four months in 2006. I also went o Rodriguez's beauty parlour, Oasis, in April 2006, with a friend. It took us forever to find it, as houses have no names or numbers in Kabul (security reasons). I called her four times on her cell phone to get to the right place. I waited while my friend got a haircut, was served tea, and got a chance to observe my surroundings. She had a presence and charisma that was hard to miss. Her energy was infectious. When Rodriguez took a cigarette break, she told us parts of her story, all in the book.

I first read about The Kabul Beauty School in an opinion piece posted in the Kabul Guide e-list I subscribe to, a few months ago. It talked about how some people that worked with Rodriguez in starting the Beauty School felt they did not get the credit they deserved in the book.
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Format: Paperback
My mother eagerly sent this book to me (yes here in Afghanistan) because she knows how much my heart bleeds for people (read: women) who do not relish in the wonderful things we westerners take for granted.

At times, I applauded Debbie for taking a stand, and never in a million years would I critize her for leaving, because the folks who are the heaviest criticizers have NO concept of bombings, kidnappings, beheadings, and the like. It is truly one of the most horrifying things I have dealt with.

Now...Kabul...I am going to attempt to describe this large city in layman's terms so the average person can understand where I am coming from. I apologize for any hurt feelings or protests, but unless you can meet me downtown Kabul tonight for tea, please take this for what it is: a description of someone who is there.

Yes, some women still wear Burqas (chadris), but while I detest the things more than I can describe, many women still wear them to protect themselves from stares, fondling, cat calls, etc. This is not to say no woman is exempt from these things, but many prefer to wear it, much to their chagrin, because women by themselves are truthfully considered "whores" by many and thus "deserving" of being fondled and hollered at. One of the things I had to get used to as a western woman (obviously, I am rich and a prostitute because I'm not married..."obviously") is the CONSTANT gaping by young men. Truckloads of young men will physically hang out their entire bodies to gawk at a western woman. Shuras won't look at me, though (usually). I have gotten my hand shaken, however, which was considered a huge step up by many in my circle.
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Format: Paperback
When I started reading this book, I was surprised to learn that the author is from my hometown in Michigan (I moved cross-country two decades ago, but still visit once a year). So, from the get-go I was extra curious about Debbie's story. At first glance, I thought the book was fascinating, and I admired the author's tenacity and heart. I didn't mind her writing style (I thought that was part of the charm), and I gave her ditzy personality a lot of latitude because I figured, at the end of the day, her efforts were having a positive impact. Naively, I assumed that Debbie had the Kabul women's best interests at heart... even though she chose to reveal "secrets" and privileged information about her beauty school students and peers. But, post-book, as I've learned more about the story (with a good bit of googling), my curiosity and fascination with the book has been replaced by sadness and disappointment. A recent (June 2008) article in the Chicago Tribune tells how the story has unfolded, or unraveled, since the book's been published... and it ain't pretty. Since she's a hometown girl, I still want to believe that Debbie's intentions have always been above board... but, either way, it's had a devastating impact on the women left behind in Kabul. Debbie's gotten some degree of glory, but her Kabul "sisters" are paying the price, and having to do it all by themselves. Very, very sad.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have mixed feelings about this book. It's easy to read and certainly provides an interesting and informative portrayal of what life is like for the women of Afghanistan. Unfortunatley, for me it dragged on in the end, and I started counting pages wondering when it would be over. There is one heartbreaking and shocking story after the next, and too many "characters" to wrap one's mind around. This mélange of stories primarily boils down to this: Terrorizing Men and Terrorized Women. I don't believe life for Afghani women has improved because of the Kabul Beauty School, and from what I understand, because of their portrayal in this book, some of the women are in more danger now that the book is out and Rodriguez has fled.

In the end, reading Kabul Beauty School did not elicit the feelings I thought it might, which was to have met an extraordinary, selfless woman who achieved a major accomplishment. Throughout the reading, I didn't understand or appreciate the author's motivation and, as a result, found it difficult to champion her cause. It's excellent memoir or journal material, but that's where the excellence ends. Does it entertain a broad audience? Absolutely not. In addition, there's a certain lack of credibility from the merely average writing skills of the author. In the retelling of this tale, Deborah Rodriguez often comes across as victim of circumstance. She makes a series of foolish choices particularly when it comes to marriage, acts rashly, and often irreverently, probably drinks too much and smokes. (This may be harsh, but these traits, to me, have nothing to do with "beauty.") For example, it doesn't make her the least bit likeable when we learn she verbally assaults a man at an outdoor market when he follows her around and grabs her backside.
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