Tag Archives: Bernadette Dunne

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

Writing a memoir these days is dangerous business: you can be outed on Oprah as the worst liar, along with your publisher (James Frey, A Million Little Pieces), you can become infamous overnight for breaking the hearts of millions who not only trusted you but even gave up their lunch money to fund you (Greg Mortenson, Three Cups of Tea), and most recently, you can face death threats even before your book was released (Mark Owen who is really Matt Bissonnette, No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden, which, incidentally, finally knocked Fifty Shades of Grey off its #1 bestseller perch just yesterday). Certain memoirs (and, of course, other books – Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses must be the most-unread-best-known-title in the world!) have two very distinct paths: there’s the story, and then the story about the story.

So here’s Deborah Rodriguez‘s tale, which I both enjoyed (Rodriguez is a larger-than-life nutter, and I mean that with all respect) and shuddered through (she’s writing about Afghanistan, where women have experienced continuing violence almost all their lives). Thanks to Bernadette Dunne (who also expertly reads Amy Waldman’s The Submission), the audible version provides the perfect combination of bemusement and shock.

Escaping a dangerous second marriage to Michigan preacher, Rodriguez travels to Afghanistan in 2002, initially with a Christian NGO of professional volunteers (doctors, dentists, nurses) among whom she feels less than useful, but finds her hairdressing skills are in even greater demand.

She gets the crazy idea to start a beauty school in Kabul – vanity and beauty are indeed universal, even in the most oppressive societies – and finds initial funding from longtime Afghan supporter Mary MacMakin, founder of the decades-old successful NGO PARSA. Brash, feisty, do-before-you-think Rodriguez makes her beauty dreams come true, not only reclaiming her own independence (although she marries hubby #3 – a former mujahideen who already has a wife and seven children! – after 20 days!), but provides many desperate young Afghan women – who are more property than human – marketable skills, a career, and even the courage to break the cycle of isolated abuse all too common in post-Taliban Afghanistan.

Beyond Rodriguez’s story – which quickly became a bestseller, with film rights sold for a substantial enough sum to merit Sandra Bullock allegedly attached as the star (IMDB lists a 2013 release; not to be confused with the documentary, The Beauty Academy of Kabul) – is, of course, the story about her story. Soon after its April 2007 debut, insider naysayers had convincing evidence as to many inaccuracies and inconsistencies on the school’s founding, funding, and success. While some of that grumbling might be ignored, the more serious consequences of the memoir’s publication – and Rodriguez’s tell-all style – is the life-and-death situation it created for some of her Kabul students and friends. Rodriguez and her son had to flee Afghanistan under threat of violence in 2007; meanwhile, a chilling NPR segment reported “Topekai” was expecting to move to Pakistan, “Baseera” expected her own death. Rodriquez has since published a novel, The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul, in March of this year, and is now living in Mexico.

“Afghan women … have been held in the dark for so long, and during the darkest years they suffered more than even I can imagine.” Rodriguez writes at book’s end. “But the darkness has been pulled back a bit. The light is starting to fall on them now. They need the world to look, watch, and make sure nothing puts out that light again.” Here’s hoping, praying, demanding!

Readers: Adult

Published: 2007


Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Afghan, Nonethnic-specific

The Submission by Amy Waldman

This is one of those spectacular titles that the less you know about it, the better your read. The amazing levels of meaning contained in the title alone makes it worth your utmost attention.

Of course, if you haven’t been hiding under a rock (like me), you might have read too many of the endlessly glowing and starred reviews that have cascaded forth this year and think you already know the story. But no, you really need to read every page to realize just how much this title deserves all those kudos, the latest of which is inclusion in The New York Times‘ “100 Notable Books of 2011.” [Amy Waldman herself is a former NYT reporter, and her worldwide experience (including co-chief of the South Asia bureau) is a major plus here.]

Here’s an overview of the first … say … two chapters. Two years after 9/11, a carefully chosen jury is charged with deciding the winning design for a memorial. After heated deliberations – “‘How can we ask this country to come together in healing if this jury can’t?’ the jury’s chairman portends – the winner is finally revealed: submission number 4879 (of 5000 anonymous entries) known simply as the Garden. Its architect’s name: Mohammad Khan.

“‘It’s Maya Lin all over again. But worse.'”

“‘I think we need to assume the worst – I mean, that he’s a Muslim.'”

“‘All over the Muslim world they’ll be jumping up and down at our stupidity, our stupid tolerance.'”
“‘Tolerance isn’t stupid … Prejudice is.'”

“‘Are you saying he’s a terrorist?'”

“‘But people are afraid. Two years on we still don’t know whether we’re up against a handful of zealots who got lucky, or a global conspiracy of a billion Muslims who hate the West, even if they live in it. We’re rarely rational in the face of threats to our personal safety, let alone our national security.'”

“Did Muslims ruin whatever they touched? The question, so unfair, startled him, as if someone else had asked it.”

No more, no more! Read on already!

Regardless of your beliefs about religious differences, religious tolerance, multiculturalism, civil rights, politics, patriotism … everything to do with a post-9/11 reality, you will find yourself questioning and challenging your own reactions throughout this taut, provocative, un-put-down-able debut novel. Don’t miss it!

Tidbit: I haven’t yet visited the real-life 9/11 Memorial. I did peruse the website, and couldn’t help noticing that in the winning architect’s biography, this sentence appears: “[Michael] Arad, a native of Israel, was reared in his country, the United States and Mexico.”

Readers: Adult

Published: 2011

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Indian American, South Asian American