October 08, 2011
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
There's a quote on the front of this book from Greg Mortenson that reads "This is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read" and I would have to agree with him. This is one of those books that, despite it being about a very sad topic matter, lifts your spirits and makes you marvel at the accomplishments some people have done.
In the introduction, author Gayle Lemmon tells us why she went to Kabul and what she hoped to accomplish there as a reporter. She also details how she came to know the story of Kamela Sediqi and her sisters and what amazing work they did for the people of Kabul. From there we are actually thrown into Kamela's story. When the Taliban first came to Kabul, Kamela had just finished at the University and had hoped to get a job. Her hopes were quickly dashed when the Taliban decreed that women were to stay at home, obtain no jobs, not leave the house without being fully covered and having a male chaperone, and whatever other rules they felt like enforcing that day. At first, bored to tears, Kamela tried to be content but when the family finances were going down the drain and her parents and older brother had to leave the city for their safety, she knew she had to do more. Enlisting the help of her older sister, she started sewing and making dresses and clothes to sell at the market (just barely flying by safely under the Taliban's watchdogs) and eventually including the rest of her sisters to help. Her enterprise quickly grew and she found herself searching for help from outside the home in the form of other women desperately needing income. One thing led to another and with all the requests to join her business, she started a sewing school to help even more women so none would be turned away. She did many other notable services as well during the Taliban's regime in Kabul.
Kamela and her entire family are amazing unique people. It was a pleasure to read their story and see what drove them to such greatness within their community. Also remarkable was her father and his drive to see all his children educated, and with eleven, that was a lot. It really speaks about the man and while he is only mentioned a few times in the book, I could glean a lot about him just from these facts. Sadly, while Kamela's mother is mentioned a few times, she is not near as easy to get an idea of from what's in this book.
The writing is very clear and easy to understand. Lemmon makes an effort to explain what different words mean when there is no translation into English and also takes the time to tell how to use certain items that may be something people are not familiar with. While the book ends at just before the end of the Taliban regime's rule in Kabul, she does do a small follow-up on the city and the people mentioned in the story, most notably Kamela. I appreciated this but would have liked to see more description given to the end area and expanding further on the time line so as to be more complete and within the story instead of an epilogue. It left me feeling like the story was somewhat unfinished, despite what I knew of the people from that epilogue. I also would have liked to see more description on the transactions Kamela made and her sales. For instance, it would have been interesting to know how much she made with each dress and what was her cost in terms of labor, materials, etc. so we'd have a better idea of what kind of money her family was living on and their situation.
In conclusion though, this is definitely a story to read. It covers all the bases on motivation, inspiration, and plain good hard work done by women in a tough situation. It was definitely a disappointment to read through it so quickly and not have any more to go on with as I would have loved to keep reading about this amazing family.
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana
255 pages including Bibliography and Resources section