When Rodriguez opened the Kabul Beauty School, she not only empowered her students with a new sense of autonomy but also made some of the closest friends of her life. Woven through the book are the stories of her students: the newlywed who must fake her virginity; the 12-year-old sold into marriage to pay her family's debts; and a woman who pursues her training despite her Taliban husband's constant beatings. They all bring their stories to the beauty school, where, along with Rodriguez herself, they learn the art of perms, friendship, and freedom.
©2007 Deborah Rodriguez-Turner; (P)2007 Blackstone Audio Inc.
"A terrific opening chapter - colorful, suspenseful, funny - ushers readers into the curious closed world of Afghan women." (Publishers Weekly)
"A lively narrative of the author's experiences reacquainting Afghan women with skills the mullahs had denied them....Terrifically readable, and rich in personal stories." (Kirkus Reviews)
I could have loved this story. I am fascinated by Afghani culture and share the author's compassion for the women there, but I felt like she spent too much time boo-hooing over her own circumstances. She would be feeling homesick or frustrated and the Afghani women (who have bigger problems than hers, such as physical/emotional abuse in their marriages) would either ignore her silliness, or comfort her.
The truth is, Debbie never went "behind the veil" as the title suggests. Sure, she wore traditional Afghani garb, but throughout the book, she insists on retaining her brash American ways, without taking much away from Afghani culture.
Most of the time I listened to this audiobook, I felt there was some major piece of it that was just missing; some common thread to tie together all the little "episodes" (that's how she structures it: one or two Afghani women, describe their problem, weep over it, and move on). Maybe I missed the point, but this wasn't what I was expecting.
While I enjoyed listening to this book, I felt like I couldn't entirely trust the writer. I wasn't sure what her motives were for going to Kabul or for marrying an Afghani man (or for leaving half-grown children back in the states, for that matter).
The writer's self-centred approach got in the way of the characters because each character was seen through a naive American lens that limited and flattened the residents of Kabul to stereotypical roles of warlords or former mujahadeen, victims of the Taliban ot helpless pawns in familial manoevering. Each episode she describes casts herself as the central American rescuer - facing up to kidnapping nasty neighbours, winning over unresponsive in-laws, saving the honour of not-so-virginal brides.
Overall, it isn't a substantial book - rather like the light-hearted (or occasionally mean-spirited) gossip of beauty salons everywhere.
I loved the descriptions of the Afghan women, their hardships and daily life. I also found the protagonist quite interesting, in a good-hearted but flaky way. She is obviously very kind and courageous, but she also seems to have poor planning skills, a reckless nature and little sense that her actions could put other women at risk, sometimes of death. There are many unanswered questions (why is Debbie so carefree about abandoning her sons for one) and except for friendships and language skills, Debbie doesn't seem to have learned much from her adventure. Still, the story moves quickly, some of the Afghan women are unforgettable, and it does seem that Debbie helped bring hope to a group of women who really needed it.
While disturbing on one level (the treatment of women in Kabul), this book, a true story, illustrates the power of one person's devotion to
an idea (start a beauty school) and the power that it's culmination has on the participants. Also, the reader is really excellent, just perfect for this kind of story. Usually I enjoy Robert B Parker, Vince Flynn and John Sandford for their heroes but it is refreshing to read about a real life female hero.
Narrative makes the world go round.
A title usually reflects the main idea of a work - this ought to have been called "Debi's Adventures in Afghanistan" or "The Un-Quiet American." At least the author admits her lack of sensitivity to Afghan culture though most of her sojourn.
I would have liked to learn more about the NGO "Beauty Without Borders" and less of Debi's personal life, but it was her memoir so she gets to choose. As it is a memoir, we need to take her view of the action with a grain of salt, I think. I in no way want to excuse the brutality of the Afghan men she describes (and at least she shows us that American men can be brutes, too, and Christianity too can to be used to try to keep women in abusive situations) - but since she talks about the effects of post tramautic stress on the women, let's admit it affected the Afghan men too.
The reader won't learn much about authentic Islam and might come away with the impression that most Afghans appreciated getting what little remained of their infrastruture destroyed in retaliation for 9/11. IF Osama had been hiding in Afghanistan, I'm sure Debi would have had more success in tracking him down on her way to Kabul than did all those bombs. If this is to be your first read about Afghanistan, better download more than this memoir.
That said, this is an easy listen, and might appeal to some who don't like the darker novels or nonfiction on the subject. And good for Debi for doing more than I ever did to save the world!
I am interested in the culture of Afghanistan since we are at war in their country. This book provided a nice inside view of the people, particularly the women. I do recommend this book, however the author includes personal information about herself that I found uninteresting and boring. That was my reason for giving it 4* instead of 5. Another book on the same subject is The Bookseller of Kabul, which I liked more.
I really enjoyed every bit of this story. It was great to learn more about the women who live, and learn to be stronger in such a conflicted country. The descriptive writing made me "see" these women and the environment they survive in. Also makes me want to find an organization the I can contribute to to help these women.
I enjoyed many parts of this book, especially the insights into the Afghan culture. I didn't think the book was particularly well written though as segments seemed to be stuck in wherever more detail was needed. The flow was a little bumpy. All in all, the book made me extremely thankful I wasn't an Afghan woman. Our book club decided that there are better books that address the topic of Afghan women.
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