As opposed to The Bookseller of Kabul, I really enjoyed this book. It is about an American woman who goes to Afghanistan with a relief group. She’s a hairdresser, not a medical professional or any other professional whose skills were immediately needed in the war-torn country, but she soon finds her niche. Beyond catering to Westerners who want a little salon pampering, Deborah is able to help form (and later basically take over) a beauty school for women. A salon is one place where men are not allowed in their culture, and therefore Deborah’s efforts really help to find women a place for good employment.
The whole book is filled with stories, good, bad, funny, terrifying, depressing. Deborah is not afraid of Afghan culture. She embraces it, though she is not blind to the problems over there. Rather than judge the whole culture as totally worthless (like Asne Seierstad seems to do), she is compassionate and caring. She wants to help people. She tried to understand where they are coming from and overcome cultural barriers. I was impressed by her courage, and glad to hear a very balanced memoir about Afghan culture. This is what I was looking for the first time I read a book on Kabul (and what I obviously didn’t get). Kabul Beauty School does not gloss over any of the horror stories, but it also doesn’t chalk it up to “oh, they’re from the Middle East, that’s why they’re like this” either. And it doesn’t dismiss the inspiring stories.
I learned sooooo much in this book, far more than I expected. I came to care about just about everyone in it. There are people whose stories aren’t done yet, or people who’ve dropped off the face of the planet and have never been heard from again, and I wish I could hear they’re okay. Memoirs aren’t really like that, though. There are no closed endings – real life goes on. But in spite of my fanciful wishes to know everything, I was extremely impressed every moment of this book. Deborah Rodriguez isn’t a professional writer, so the prose is clear, simple, and oftentimes sounds just like conversation. It was the perfect tone for this book – unassuming and unpretentious. She didn’t have political agendas that she forced on the reader the whole time. She didn’t go in for scare tactics to sell her book. She didn’t exploit the people around her. She was a wonderful storyteller. Many times I laughed out loud for five minutes at a time. I really recommend this book to everyone. It’s fast and fun and easy to read, and gives an honest perspective on a part of the world few of us know much about.