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.

What I love about “Love and Loyalty on the Loire”

As promised, here is more about what I love about Gwen’s book, Love and Loyalty on the Loire: A Tale of Medieval Hearts Divided by Battle Lines. I have also posted this review on Amazon and Goodreads!

Read Gwen Holbrooke’s first novella, “Love and Loyalty on the Loire: A Tale of Medieval Hearts Divided by Battle Lines,” and you will find yourself immersed in the romance between young Elodie deClery and Gareth of Cornwall, a wounded enemy knight who Elodie nurses back to health in the midst of the 100 Years War. The story offers the reader a satisfying love story between a French maiden and injured English knight as well as a lesson in history and medieval culture during the Hundred Years War. My favorite part, however, is how, in addition to history and romance, her story artfully offers the reader an opportunity to consider Catholic teachings as an underpinning to living a virtuous life.

Love and loyalty, are, as the title suggests, central themes of the story. Elodie is primarily motivated by love – not just romantic love for Gareth, but a more profound love for all humankind as created by God. She reflects upon this frequently throughout the story, remembering, as she wrestles with the wisdom of rescuing a wounded enemy knight, that her “[f]ather always taught that human life with its imago Dei mattered more than fiefdom to any king” (Kindle location 364). She clearly learned this elevated love from her family, headed by two incredible parents, Luis and Colette. Gareth, on the other hand, is motivated by loyalty to country, his word, and his code of knightly ethics. Spending time with the deClerys, his intellect nurtured by Luis’ store of Catholic and philosophical books—including The Confessions of St. Augustine, among others that remained unnamed—and his heart by Elodie’s tender care, he learns to weigh love and loyalty in the moments that matter.

Gwen’s admirable characters demonstrate the virtues of love and loyalty undergirded by a firm foundation on Catholic principles, artfully woven into the dialogue and inner musings of the characters. For example, Gareth and Elodie’s discussion of Augustine’s “Confessions” flows naturally and clearly contributes to the development of the characters as the story progresses. Throughout, the characters ponder themes of just war, human dignity, and good and evil. I was impressed by Gwen’s ability to make the application of the great saints’ teachings seem so practical, essential, and attainable for ordinary people in everyday situations.

Perhaps my favorite line in the entire story comes as Elodie tried to sleep, but instead continues her internal debate on just war and the appropriateness of helping Gareth. It is Elodie’s profound thought that these moral and philosophical considerations determine “the shape of all reality” (Kindle location 748)—that remains with me the most after reading the story. I find in Elodie an admirable woman who lived her life the way the Lord intended. She weighs her actions according to the precepts of the Lord and seeks truth and justice, and I find her becoming a role model for me and, I think, for women everywhere and throughout time.

Overall, I enjoyed the love story and the lesson in history. Gwen’s detailed writing enables the reader to see the scenery and to smell the smells. Even more importantly, the depth of her character development and ability to create suspense when and where it matters allow the reader to become emotionally invested in the story. At the end, I find myself missing the characters and longing to know what the future holds for them. Perhaps Gwen will thrill us all with a sequel!

*** Thanks to Stephanie for guidance on how to write my first real book review. Click here for “How to write a book review in 5 easy steps”