Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Book Review: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe

About the Book:  This is a story of the women war leaves behind, the unsung heroines who pull families through regardless of circumstance.  When the Taliban took control of Kabul, Kamela Sediqi and all the women of Kabul saw their lives transformed: Overnight they were banned from schools and offices and even leaving their front door on their own. The economy collapsed and young men left the city in search of work and security. Desperate to help her family and support her five brothers and sisters at home, Kamela began sewing clothes in her living room. Little did she know then that the tailoring venture she started to help her siblings would be the beginning of a dressmaking business that would create jobs and hope for 100 neighborhood women and mean the difference between survival and starvation for dozens of families like her own.

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana tells the story of this unlikely breadwinner who became an entrepreneur under the Taliban. Former ABC News producer Gayle Tzemach Lemmon tells for the first time the story of the young women like Kamela who found opportunity amid the hardship and who kept their families going even as their world falls apart. Threatened by armed soldiers, nearly thrown in prison, confronted by moral dilemmas, Kamela had nowhere to turn and nothing to rely on but her own ingenuity, determination and grit. Overcoming terror, danger and intimidation, the resilient woman found a way forward for the sake of those she loved, and ultimately reshaped her own future.

"We're far more accustomed to—and comfortable with—seeing women portrayed as victims of war who deserve our sympathy rather than as resilient survivors who demand our respect," Lemmon writes. In this moving chronicle of courage and possibility, she aims to change the way we think, showing lives of inspiration and hope at a time of grim desperation—lives of women who, against the odds, supported themselves and their communities, and perhaps, helped save their nation as well.

My Thoughts:  I loved it!  The version of Islamic law under which the Taliban insisted the Afghan  people live basically imprisoned women in Burquas and in their own homes.  The male population of the country was decimated by war so many households were left without income, including the well-educated middle-class Sediqi family.  Starting small Kamela built a home-based sewing business into a neighborhood industry that supported many families.  I loved watching Kamela start small and build her business, staying just inside the lines drawn by the Taliban (or doing a good job of hiding when she moved outside of them).  From a small enterprise designed to both occupy herself and her sisters and to feed them, the family sewing business grew to one that not only provided income for women, but training as well.  From there Kamela moved to working with a United Nations group dedicated to giving voice to the Afghan women and helping them to sell hand-made goods.  After the fall of the Taliban she founded a business which helps others, particularly women, found businesses, so as to improve the economic health of the nation.  

The story was interesting, well-paced, heart-warming without being maudlin and a great reminder of how lucky we are to live in the USA.  

Grade:  A.

I'd like to thank Harper-Collins, the publisher, for making a review copy available through Net Galley.  I was under no obligation to read, review, or positively review this book.


  1. This sounds like the kind of book I adore! I can't wait to read it.

  2. I have this for review but haven't read it yet so I skipped to your letter grade. I'm so excited to read it!

  3. I'll be getting this one- reading it- then sending it on to my daughter. Thanks for the review.


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