Title: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe
Author: Gayle Lemmon
Release Date: March 15, 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5
Kamila Sidiqi was a normal teenage girl living in Afghanistan in the 1990s. She was educated, as her father had insisted that all of his daughters have an education along with his son, and was looking forward to working in Kabul one day. However, all that changed when the Taliban took over Afghanistan. All of a sudden, Kamila, her sisters, and the other women of Afghanistan were required to be covered from head to toe – even the most innocent violation of this rule could result in severe public beatings, or even jail time. Their career prospects shot down to zero because the Taliban ruled that women weren’t allowed to work outside the home; indeed, they couldn’t even leave home without a male relative escorting them.
Because Kamila had four sisters and only one brother, feeding her family was becoming increasingly difficult, and even worse, this situation was the case all over Kabul. Women in the Khair Khana district of Kabul were becoming increasingly desperate to feed their children and their brothers and sisters. Kamila decided that she had to do something to help her family and her community, and in the process, she changed the lives of countless women in Kabul.
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is a beautiful and inspiring case study of female entrepreneurism in the most desperate of situations. Kamila was irrepressible and determined. Like everyone else, she was frightened of what might happen to her if she was caught by the Taliban, but she didn’t let that fear paralyze her. What’s more, she tried to help as many people as she could. It would have been easy (and much safer) to restrict her business to her sisters, but Kamila felt the urge to help her community as well. It’s an inspirational story and really emphasizes the power of one person to make a difference.
The author, Gayle Lemmon, is a journalist who was in Afghanistan looking for female entrepreneurs to write about. Her own experiences in the country, detailed in a prologue to the book, were also very interesting. It would have been easy for Lemmon to make this a memoir, framing Kamila’s experiences with her own in today’s Afghanistan, but she refrained, making the book solely about the dressmakers of Khair Khana. Readers will appreciate Gayle’s story, but also be grateful that she chose to put the spotlight on Kamila and her family.
However, the narration tends to stay on the surface for much of the book. Lemmon went to Afghanistan looking for a case study, and in some ways, that’s how the book reads. While Kamila is clearly a strong, independent woman, there isn’t much character development beyond that. While that makes sense for the scope of the book, some readers may be disappointed because you don’t really get to know these women.
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is a short easy read, but it provides so much to the reader in so few pages. An exceptional story about an amazing woman, inspiration, education about another culture and a country’s history – all of this is packed in the pages of this small book. Readers will race through the story to see how things end for Kamila and her family. It’s an easy read, but a powerful one, that I highly recommended.