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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon - BOOK REVIEW

TLC Book Tours 
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Title:  The Dressmaker of Khair Khana
Author:  Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Publisher:   Harper Perennial, an imprint of Harper Collins
Paperback Release Date:  February 15, 2012
Paperback, 304 pages
ISBN 10:     0061732478
ISBN 13:  9780061732478
The Book Depository / Amazon

Book description:

Kamila Sidiqi's life changed overnight when the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan. After her father and brother were forced to flee, she became the sole breadwinner for her five siblings. Banned from school, confined to her home, and armed only with determination, she picked up a needle and thread to create a thriving business that saved their lives.

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana tells the incredible true story of this unlikely entrepreneur who mobilized her community under the Taliban. A story of war, it is also a story of family, faith, and resilience in the face of despair. These women are not victims—they are the glue that holds families together; they are the backbone and the heart of their nation. Kamila Sidiqi's journey will inspire you, but it will also change the way you think about one of the most important political and humanitarian issues of our time.

My Take: 

When you think of Afghanistan under Taliban rule, what do you think of?  Reading this book may well change your thinking, especially about the women there, who, literally overnight, were forced to live under extremely oppressive conditions.

Kamila Sidiq is the second-oldest daughter of a family of 11 siblings.  Her mother and, most especially, her father, strongly believe in education for ALL of their children.  As the Taliban move closer to the city of Kabul, Kamila completes her teacher training, but ends up using it in a fashion that she never envisioned - teaching other young neighborhood women in her suburb of Khair Khana to sew in order to make enough money to feed their families.

In these pages, we are taken through the five years of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, where the takeover was so sudden that women and girls in a modern culture where women went to work and school in Western wear, were, in one day, thrust into a world where they could not go outside without a chadri, or burqa, a head-to-toe covering with only a small mesh opening for the eyes.

Women and girls were no longer allowed to go to school or work.  Medical doctors were no longer allowed to work with male patients or even talk to their male counterparts. Hospitals became segregated, and women and girls were not allowed to talk to any male outside of their own family members.

As Kamila's father, followed by her mother, leave for the northern provinces for safety (Kamila's father had worked for Massoud, the leader ousted by the Taliban), and her brother Najeeb also leaves to try to find work, Kamila, a teenager herself, becomes the head of a household where funds are running dry.

Rather than giving up and giving in, which would certainly have meant even more deprivation for her family in a city where electricity itself is spotty at best, Kamila finds a way to earn a living selling the clothing made by the light of hurricane lamps.  In doing so, she opens the way for her sisters and for other women and girls in the neighborhood to help their families as well.

This inspiring story of a woman's will to DO something, when even a trip out of the house without a male relative could mean questioning, beating, detainment, or even death, is one that will fan a flame of hope inside everyone who reads it.

Written by Gayle Lemmon, a reporter who visited Afghanistan over a period of years beginning in 2005, this true story is uplifting and illuminating.  As the reader lives and works beside Kamila through these pages, there are moments when you will hold your breath at the dangers faced by her and her family in their attempt to simply make a living.  As Kabul and its outskirts are bombed after the events of 9/11, the dangers are different, but still very real. 

In short, this is a remarkable story; one that will have the reader thinking of it long after the pages are closed.


Kabulis watched helplessly as the Taliban began reshaping the cosmopolitan capital according to their utopian vision of seventh-century Islam.  Almost immediately they instituted a brutal - and effective - system of law and order. Accused thieves had one hand and one foot cut off, and their severed limbs were hung from posts on street corners as a warning to others. Overnight, crime in the monumentally lawless city dropped to almost zero.  Then they banned everything they regarded as a distraction from the duty of worship:  music, long a part of Afghan culture, and movies, television, card playing, the game of chess, and even kite flying, the popular Friday afternoon pastime.  And they didn't stop at actions alone:  Creating a representation of the human figure was soon forbidden, as was wearing European clothing or haircuts.  

Brave young women complete heroic acts every day,with no one bearing witness.  This was a chance to even the ledger, to share one small story that made the difference between starvation and survival for the families whose lives it changed. I wanted to pull the curtain back for readers on a place foreigners know more for its rocket attacks and roadside bombs than its countless quiet feats of courage.  And to introduce them to the young women like Kamila Sidiqi who will go on. No matter what.

BOOK RATING:   4.5 out of 5 stars

BLOGGERS:  Have you reviewed this book? If so, please feel free to leave a link to your review in the comments section; I will also add your link to the body of my review.

Other Reviews:

Book Fan Mary (her review is what made me want this book!)

Author Website

Follow Gayle Lemmon on Facebook and/or Twitter!

BUY IT:  At Amazon, The Book Depository, through the publisher's website,  and through other on-and-off-line booksellers.

Disclosure:  I  received a  complimentary copy of this title from TLC Book Tours to facilitate my review.  No other compensation was received and I was not required to post a positive review.


  1. We rated it the same! I really enjoyed this book.

    My review:

  2. Mary (Bookfan) : Actually, YOUR review is what I have listed in my Goodreads list as the person who recommended it to me! :)

  3. This sounds really interesting. It's so hard for us to imagine what life would be like if we lived in a situation like this one.

  4. Sounds like a great book to discuss with a group of young women, to inspire them to do the best they can regardless of their situation.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!


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