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Review: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

the dressmaker of khair khanaKabul, Afghanistan became an incredibly difficult place to live after the Taliban took over. Within days, women lost all of their privileges, forced to wear restrictive clothing and take male family members with them everywhere, but often starving because those same men had to flee to avoid persecution or conscription. It’s too easy to envision these women as victims, helpless and starving, when some emerged as anything but. One of these was Kamela, who determined to save her family of sisters by starting a dressmaking business, even though only one sister knew how to sew and women were not allowed to speak with men to sell their wares. Reporter Lemmon tells Kamela’s story clearly and with a significant amount of hope for the future.

It’s very difficult as a western woman to picture the lives of women in Afghanistan. We know they’re hard, but we’re so consumed with our own everyday lives that we don’t spare too many thoughts for those whose lives are immeasurably harder than ours. Kamela’s story was outright inspiring and I am so glad Lemmon took the time to tell it clearly and carefully. She keeps herself completely out of this; she only figures in the introduction, and leaves Kamela’s story to stand clear without any details of how she fared as a visitor to Afghanistan. As a result, Kamela emerges as a daring heroine, not only determined to help her family but to help other women help themselves. It’s a story that certainly deserved to be told and I am very glad I read it.

At times, however, I felt the writing let the story down a bit. Little details that work in a column don’t necessarily work over the course of a book; I felt like the author threw in little things like what the girls were eating but then neglected big-picture details, somehow making the situation seem less dangerous than it was. She explained the background to the conflict exceptionally well, and there were incidents where Kamela was certainly in danger, but for the most part it felt almost too straightforward, without any real sense for me of what was constantly going on outside Kamela’s doorstep.

Regardless, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is definitely a book worth taking the time to read. It’s short and it’s a true story of a woman who faced adversity to save her family, teach her peers, and make life in her country better for everyone involved. I’m very glad I read it and would recommend it to everyone.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free for review from the publisher.

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