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Kabul Beauty School Book – How Close to Reality?

A new book set in Afghanistan and based on a true story is selling so well in the United States that Hollywood now wants bring it to the big screen. But as VOA's George Dwyer reports, some of the participants in the story are now claiming many of the book's assertions are inaccurate or incomplete.

''Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil" is the story of an American woman, Deborah Rodriquez, who traveled to Afghanistan in 2003 to help establish a training academy for beauticians.

Rodriquez appeared in the 2004 film "The Beauty Academy of Kabul" directed by documentary artist Liz Mermin.

"I thought she was going to get us all killed,” says Mermin. “She's there, she's big, she's loud, she's cracking jokes that are in some questionable taste, when you're surrounded by all these men, and yet, watching her negotiate Kabul was kind of fascinating."

But others involved with the project say Rodriguez's role is overstated in the film, and that her book claims far too much credit as well.

Sheila McGurk is a salon owner in Alexandria, Virginia. She was an instructor for the first class at the Kabul school. "I was brought in to evaluate the students and prepare them for graduation," says McGurk.

After that first class of 20 women graduated, McGurk and others involved returned to the U.S. to raise funds for a planned expansion.

"So after the film came out we had just returned and we were really antsy [eager] to get back. We returned, leaving Debby Rodriguez in Kabul to ‘look after the store’ so to speak," adds McGurk.

But McGurk claims Rodriguez allowed the original school to shut down and then started a salon of her own. It is a claim Rodriguez disputes, although she declined to comment for this report.

VOA-TV recently visited Rodriguez's salon in Kabul and spoke to some of the women who work there. Controversy aside, there's little doubt they still think about the American women who came to help them.

For her part, Sheila McGurk says she just wants to keep attention focused on the graduates of the Kabul Beauty School.

"I want people to remember those women, and how courageous they were," says McGurk. "There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of those women – not a day. And I want them to know that we did not desert them, and that we are still thinking about them."