Book Review: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

14 Mar

Book cover: The Dressmaker of Khair KhanaGenre: Non fiction/Biography

Publisher: HarperCollins (Harper)

Pub date: 15 March 2011

Source: Publisher

My interest in the Sacred Feminine, feminism and female power very often takes me far back in history to read about the theory and the stories about these women. But that study would not be meaningful unless I found a way to connect to recent/current events where similar stories can be found.

Most stories of women (true and fictional) in war time focuses on women as victims. But Lemmon has brought us the story of these women who defied that stereotype – an inspirational and intense subject, all the more for its proximity in time.

Synopsis (from GoodReads)

The life Kamela Sediqi had known changed overnight when the Taliban seized control of the city of Kabul. After receiving a teaching degree during the civil war—a rare achievement for any Afghan woman—Kamela was subsequently banned from school and confined to her home. When her father and brother were forced to flee the city, Kamela became the sole breadwinner for her five siblings. Armed only with grit and determination, she picked up a needle and thread and created a thriving business of her own.

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana tells the incredible true story of this unlikely entrepreneur who mobilized her community under the Taliban. Former ABC News reporter Gayle Tzemach Lemmon spent years on the ground reporting Kamela’s story, and the result is an unusually intimate and unsanitized look at the daily lives of women in Afghanistan. These women are not victims; they are the glue that holds families together; they are the backbone and the heart of their nation.

The easy writing style made this difficult topic a lot more approachable and easy to read. It’s clear that Lemmon shared danger to visit all these women to get their stories and make sure that their achievements became known.

Under the Taliban, women were not allowed to work, go to school or even step out of their homes without a male companion. All women had to wear loose clothing and always wear the chadri when outside – an outer garment that covered the entire body. Punishments for small lapses were severe and immediate.

Being denied your life and being told what to wear is no small adjustment to make, and these women had the added burden of not being able to earn any money. Many of them were the bread winners for their home. With large families and many of the men lost to the war, they had no way to make a living.

Kamela and her sisters found a way to keep busy, help each other and make money under oppressive and scary conditions. I’m sure there have been women like this through the ages, but we don’t get to hear about them enough.

I expected this to be an intense read, and while it was compelling and inspirational, it left something wanting… For the last couple of days, I’ve been thinking about why that is, and I think I’ve figured it out.

For one thing, it’s a little dry – there are a series of events followed by another series of events. Now, I’m new to biographies and non-fiction in general, so I’m not sure if that is the usual style. But the lack of drama made even the life-threatening parts feel a little flat.

Another thing that I’m not satisfied with is that it doesn’t dig a little deeper. I would have liked to read more about the Taliban, their rise and their philosophy. I would like to understand how the Draconian sharia law they implemented was a twisting of the beliefs of Islam and everything that the religion stands for. I would have loved to hear how Kamela’s faith differed from this belief system and how she interpreted her faith and religion to find strength.

We hear now and then that she knows that Allah will protect her. I wonder if that is because she strongly believes that the Taliban’s Islamic law was a perversion of the word of god? The rise of the Taliban was obviously a political movement rather than a religious one –  but religion and force is what they used to force people into conforming. I would have liked to read a little more about that.

But all said, this is an inspirational story of how women find courage and hope to not just survive, but help others, build a community and protect and help each other. What Kamela and her sisters and the women from the NGOs did for the entire community is awe-inspiring.

Recommended. Read it to feel thankful and inspired and feel compelled to attack obstacles in your life with more tenacity.

Rating: 4*

Note: Spellings of names and places in the review are as per the ARC I read. These spellings might be different in the final copy.

*See my Rating policy

Do you agree with my review, or do you think I’m way off? Just want to say hi? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

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8 Responses to “Book Review: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon”

  1. bookspersonally March 15, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

    Great review, I especially love your Verdict!

    • stargazerpuj March 15, 2011 at 7:00 pm #

      Thanks! Made me think of the relatively small things that I consider big obstacles and reasons to not persevere.

  2. Gayle Lemmon March 16, 2011 at 10:21 am #

    Thanks very much for your review of “The Dressmaker of Khair Khana,” a universal story about family, war, commitment and the risks we take for those we love. I appreciate your thoughtful review. It is always a challenge for writer to decide what to leave in and what to remove, and I hope you continue to find inspiration from this story of unsung heroines and unlikely entrepreneurs. These young women were and are an inspiration for me, and bringing their story to readers has been a joy.
    Thank you for your help in spreading the word and warm regards,
    Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

    • stargazerpuj March 16, 2011 at 10:36 am #

      Thanks, Gayle. First, I’m thrilled to have you comment on my review of your book!
      This story was definitely an inspiration for me and I find myself thinking about these women (and others in similar situations) a lot.
      All the best for the wonderful work you are doing!

  3. vivek tejuja March 21, 2011 at 9:24 pm #

    Loved the review. Now I cannot wait to read this book.

    • stargazerpuj March 22, 2011 at 8:17 am #

      It’s the side of the story we haven’t really heard before. But a very real part of the reality in Afghanistan and in other places too, I’m sure.


  1. Even Afghanistan has Teen Entrepreneurs-Females That Is! « Girl's CEO Connection Blog - May 8, 2011

    […] Book Review: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon ( […]

  2. Even Afghanistan has Teen Entrepreneurs-Females That Is! | Girl's CEO Connection Blog - March 29, 2016

    […] Book Review: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon ( […]

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