Do you remember early in the 2000s, when the US Army and NATO forces overthrew the Taliban, and the west was optimistic about Afghanistan’s future? Khaled Hosseini’s first novel, The Kite Runner, closed as the war was being won and his exiled family prepared to return to the country they loved.
Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriguez and Kristin Ohlson takes place during those hopeful times, too. Rodriguez, a hairdresser from Holland, Michigan, first went to Afghanistan after 9/11 as part of a humanitarian organization. While there, she conceived the idea of starting a beauty school in the country to train poor women and enable them to earn an income for their families.
The plight and oppression of women in Afghanistan unfolds as the story progresses. The futures of the beauty school graduates seems bright, but time after time their hopes are dashed by arranged marriages, abusive husbands and ruined reputations. Rodriguez herself is a deeply flawed person, impulsive and lacking in judgement, as her train wreck of a marriage to an already married Afghan man showed. But she is also courageous, indomitable, and resourceful. And she’s certainly done more for Afghan women than most Americans have.
She’s received some bad press since leaving Afghanistan in 2007 after her son received a kidnapping threat. The women left behind say she’s abandoned them and reneged on promises she made when they agreed to share their stories in the book. Rodriguez says she hasn’t forgotten them, but she must rebuild her life in the United States before she can help them. You can learn more about Debbie Rodriguez and download the afterward she’s since written for her book at www.debbierodriguez.com
Kabul Beauty School is a book worth reading, not because it’s beautifully written or presents a heroine worthy of emulation. It’s worth reading because we are citizens of the world and need to be disturbed by the lives of the oppressed and downtrodden women of Afghanistan. We may not be able to help them, but their story should spur us to find and help hurting women where we live.