Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Kabul Beauty School: Smoking, drinking, multiple-marrying American moves to Afghanistan

Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil by Deborah Rodriguez

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not long after I started reading this book, I did a bit of research. The author, Debbie Rodriguez, has been under fire for publicizing (and possibly exaggerating) the tragic stories of her beauty school students. In the beginning chapter, she describes how she helped a close friend fake her virginity on her wedding night. Critics allege that she has exposed these women to great danger in Afghanistan by sharing this information; even though she didn't share names or identifying details, the pieces could be put together and present great risks for the women back in Afghanistan.

With all that aside, I have to admire this brash, spunky, smoking, drinking, multiple-marrying, midwestern, redhead beautician who went off to Afghanistan right after 9/11. I admire her courage and her tenacity. I admire the fact that she taught Afghani women a new trade in a country where their opportunities are extremely limited.

Her personal choices were another matter. She seems to treat marriage as a temporary convenience, with no regard for vows or long-term commitment. When she first arrived in Afghanistan, she was escaping a difficult marriage (her second or third). After getting a divorce, she turned around and married an Afghani man who she'd only known for 20 days (it was essentially an arranged marriage)...and he had a wife and 7 children in Saudi Arabia, but she didn't seem too bothered by that. For all her claims about helping women build better lives and become independent, she decided she needed to find a new husband for financial support and because she was lonely! She is now estranged from him because he is working for a warlord and fears for her life. Completely bizarre...

I can't say whether the events that Rodriguez writes about really happened the way she describes (her critics claim she has exaggerated her role in building the beauty school), and the book is not very well written (it's ghost written by a friend of hers), but I am giving it 3 stars for the sheer courage and gumption she displayed...even though I don't understand her motives.

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