Book Review: Kabul Beauty School

Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez

Summary: Deborah Rodriguez uses her cosmetology degree and experience to help open and run the Kabul Beauty School, where she seeks to empower Afghan women by teaching them the skills to open their own beauty salons and serve as future teachers at the school. She learns and shares the stories of these remarkable women and accomplishes her own self-discovery in the process.

What I liked and what I learned: The author’s work in Afghanistan and her service to the women she taught is admirable and showed real courage. She presents a more human Afghanistan–physically and culturally–than we often have the opportunity to see in the news and security-related stories. Much of her book takes place before I started to pay attention to Afghanistan at all and before the security situation deteriorated drastically after 2007, and provided a glimpse of how ordinary Afghans and foreigners lived day-to-day.

I learned a lot about women in Afghanistan, how their roles and opportunities changed as Afghan leadership and security shifted over time. Deborah does a fantastic job of sharing these women’s stories–their burdens and their successes alike–and how they navigate personal empowerment within cultural constraints. I found myself continually reflecting upon the true freedom American women are afforded and the blessings I have in my own life in terms of personal freedom, education, and a loving, supportive marriage.

What I didn’t like: The first chapter of the books seems like it was written to hook the reader and sort of draw you in with a dramatic story, but it actually had the opposite effect on me. I found it a little overly dramatic, I was displeased with the dishonesty displayed, and I rapidly (and perhaps unfairly) decided I didn’t like the author. I almost stopped reading. Additionally, I found the follow-up to this first chapter a little disjointed and buried in a later chapter. I  expected it to be tied up neatly at the end, but it felt like it was just sort of stuck in there because it had to be. I also had some difficulties reading the story because the author and I disagree on some major moral issues – dishonesty and polygamy in particular.

My rating: Ultimately, I’m glad I decided to give the book a chance after the first chapter. It’s worth a read, but hardly blows me away. My rating: 3 stars out of 5.

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