Hannibal Free Public Library

Kabul Beauty School

Deborah Rodriguez

April 27, 2009

Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes behind the Veil is the memoir of Deborah Rodriguez, who went to Afghanistan as part of a group offering humanitarian aid shortly after the fall of the Taliban, in 2001.  Surrounded by men and women whose skills as doctors, nurses, and therapists seemed eminently more practical than her own, Rodriguez, a hairdresser and mother of two from Michigan, despaired of being of any real use. Yet, she soon found she had a gift for befriending Afghans, and once her profession became known she was eagerly sought out by Westerners desperate for a good haircut and by Afghan women, who have a long and proud tradition of running their own beauty salons.  

Discussion Questions: 

1.      How do you think American women are similar to and, at the same time, different from the Afghan women Debbie befriended and worked with? 

2.      Were you shocked when Debbie revealed that her husband had another wife? 

3.      As a mother of two, was Debbie irresponsible in taking risks like crossing the Khyber Pass and confronting her neighbors? Should she have gone to Afghanistan at all, knowing the conditions in the country?  Was it foolish for Debbie to continue running the beauty school in the face of government interference and hostility? 

4.      Would you have let a known Taliban member, and opium addict at that, stay under your roof in order to help his wife? How dangerous do you think this decision really was? 

5.      Why do you think Hama was unable to follow through and accept the generous offer of a place to live and a new life in the US? 

6.      Did it surprise you to read about some of the frank discussions and depictions of sex among the Afghan women at the beauty salon and the wedding that Debbie attended? 

7.      Debbie goes to Afghanistan in order to change the lives of women there and give them greater power in their personal lives, a mission that she has fulfilled for many women. How have these women changed her? 

8.      Does the example of a strong self-sufficient woman Debbie sets for the Afghan women provide them with helpful inspiration or does it set a dangerous precedent, encouraging them to model behaviors and aspirations that might be dangerous to them in their environment? 

9.        What parts of the memoir were believable?  Did you wonder about any of Rodriguez’s story?  How important is truthfulness in a memoir? 

Discussion questions, and information about the book and the author were adapted from: