The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon captures the story of Kamila Sidiqi during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan in The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep them Safe. Kamila’s story is about how she survived and prospered under the Taliban rule by starting her own dressmaking business with her sisters and taking a huge risk in trusting those she sold the dresses.

Not only did Kamila support her family after her parents and older brother had to flee Kabul, she started teaching neighborhood women the same skills she learned so that they too could support their families. The story really is amazing, not just for the sisters story of survival, but for the information about the era that was included in the story. Its remarkable that the Taliban somehow believe they are doing whats best for their country from a religious stand point, but make no common sense policies to help the people who actually live there. Although with the dressmaking business, Kamila and her family survived the time without too much hardship and the support of the community around them.

While the story was/is remarkable for such a young woman during that time, in that place in the world, to do what she did, I don’t think the writer did a great job portraying Kamila. Her portrayal seemed childlike and inexperienced, too idealistic. But for Kamila to have done what she did and have the amazing learning opportunities, she cannot be naive or innocent in the business world. She may be idealistic, but her ideas are based in reality and she has made unbelievably smart decisions to survive and made great sacrifices to help others. I think in trying to show the danger Kamila was in, Lemmon ends up showing her as fragile and small, when under the circumstances she must have been huge.

Even with that criticism, this book is still a great read. Bringing an unknown world to the reader while telling a brave woman and her family’s story.

Read April 2013

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