19 May 2010

Book Report: Kabul Beauty School

Summer is almost here, which is my favorite time of year for two reasons: sunshine and summer reads! I just cannot wait for summer to officially begin, so I decided to commence with the reading bit a little ahead of schedule. :D My selection: Kabul Beauty School, which was lent to me by my mother-in-law, Karen. (I love that we have such similar taste in books!)

Kabul Beauty School follows the story (albeit scatteredly) of Deborah Rodriguez, a new divorce who goes to Afghanistan to work with an NGO in the wake of insurgent attacks and *SPOILER ALERT* ends up starting a beauty school in Kabul. Upon arrival, Deborah quickly realizes that her skill set is not, well...as useful as she had thought. All the others with her aid group are doctors, nurses, and engineers. She, however, is a hairstylist. But she soon learns that hers is a very valuable skill – diplomats, aid workers, and travelers begin seeking her out in droves to get a decent haircut. Eventually she gets the idea to start a beauty school to help Afghani women earn a decent living and support their families.

As she embeds herself in the Afghani culture, Deborah learns the plight of women in Kabul and their very limited options for survival. The political turmoil makes it even more difficult for women to support their families. It was absolutely fascinating to me to learn about the cultural expectations of women and the consequences for going against the grain. I knew about the practice of wearing burquas and that the Middle East is a very male-dominant, patriarchal society. But some of the “taboos” she mentioned – like single females living alone – were so completely foreign to me (not that I know what it’s like to wear a burqua, but you get the idea)! Reading this book has definitely made me thankful for the freedoms I’m allowed here in the States.

It also made me aware of some scary similarities too, like stereotyping a person because of their race or social class. Even victim blaming, the practice of placing fault on the victim of sexual or domestic abuse, is something that is done in America too.

My main criticism of the book would be its scatteredness – Deborah barely finishes her sentence before jumping into a new thought! There are many wonderful and poignant anecdotes, but they probably could have been organized a little better.

I love books that stretch my thinking and challenge me to look at the world in a different way. Kabul Beauty School definitely did just that. I would most definitely recommend this book, especially if you like a little adventure. :D

Next on the list: The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. And yes, I am intimidated.

Let me know your favorite summer reads – I’m always up for something new!

1 comment:

karen said...

deborah should have hired you as her editor! you concisely and intelligently reviewed this great read!
just finished 'the help'. you are right! i, too, did not want it to end. i savored each word like a bite of a freshly baked chocolate chip cookie! my next read? can't wait to get my hands on your book~the god of small things! i look forward to more reviews of your reading this summer!