Wednesday 20 April 2011

Book review : The Dressmaker of Khair Khana - Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

When I first heard the title The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, I thought it sounded like the name of a poetic, lyrical, award-winning work of fiction, but it turns out I was completely wrong. This is the true-life story of a young Afghan woman whose fighting spirit and determination helped offer jobs and above all hope to the women of Kabul in the Taliban years.

The blurb on the press release says : "The story behind the book grew out of a trip to Afghanistan in December 2005 when Tzemach Lemmon was assigned to write a story for The Financial Times and a case for Harvard Business School on Afghan women entrepreneurs. There she met Kamila Sidiqi, an unlikely breadwinner who had become an entrepreneur under the Taliban. Desperate to support her six brothers and sisters at home and banished from Kabul’s streets by the Taliban, she started a dressmaking business in her living room which offered work to 100 women in her neighborhood. Together these unsung heroines made the difference between survival and starvation for their families despite—and sometimes because of—the Taliban. THE DRESSMAKER OF KHAIR KHANA tells their story for the first time."

Despite being set in a war-zone, often chronicling acts of violence and oppression, I found this to be a very uplifting book. The story of Kamila and her sisters gives us a fascinating glimpse into life in a city suddenly over-run with Taliban - personally speaking, I knew very little of life in Afghanistan and the early years of the Taliban before the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the War Against Terror made it into big news on TV. But, despite filling in some of the gaps in my knowledge of Afghanistan's history, the story is also timeless. Kamila and her sisters reminded me of many other determined survivors that we read about in tales of Nazi concentration camps or other desperate situations where human resistance is pushed to its limit.

I've answered a few "What are you reading at the moment ?" tweets on twitter in the past few days and every time I describe the book, the unanimous response is that it sounds heavy or depressing. It really isn't. I'm sure Kamila would never see herself as a victim - she just gets on with life and works out ways to get around dangerous situations and problems as they arise. It's great to realise that behind the image of subdued, repressed women imprisoned at home or covered head to foot in burkas that TV often portrayed are feisty, bloody-minded, fast-thinking women whose determination and courage are an inspiration to us all.

star rating : 4/5

RRP : $24.99

Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Harper (15 Mar 2011)
Language English
ISBN-10: 9780061732379
ISBN-13: 978-0061732379
ASIN: 0061732370

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1 comment:

  1. Dressmaking was the solution (even though Kamila herself had no training or skill in handiwork), and, through sheer determination and bravery, Kamila made her business grow. She was driven not only by the need to provide for herself and for her family but by her desire to restore to the women of Kabul their belief in themselves as self-determining and self-sufficient. Before the Taliban entered their lives, many of these women had been trained as doctors or teachers, and they had been important contributors to their families, both economically and socially. Kamila gave these women the chance to once again support their families and form new networks of support and community. After the Taliban were driven out by American attacks following 9/11, those networks of support and community held, laying the groundwork for new businesses and allowing new opportunities to flourish not only for the women of Kabul but also for the city's returning men.


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