The story of an unsung heroine: A review of 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 by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

The dressmaker of Khair Khana is the inspiring story of Kamila Sidiqi who created a thriving sewing business in the living room of her own house, when the Taliban occupied the city of Kabul and banned women from nearly all public places including schools. Confined to their homes, women’s lives virtually changed overnight. When Kamila’s father and brother fled the city, Kamila became the breadwinner of her family. Kamila believed whole heartedly that “by starting her own business and helping other women do the same, she could help save her long-troubled country.” (p. xxvi)

The journalist in Lemmon wants to know where Kamila’s passion originates, and how her story affects Afghanistan’s future and its partnership with America. She also hopes that her book will change the tradition that women are portrayed as victims of war and pitied. Instead they are survivors of war whose bravery and determination held their families and communities together. In addition, they should be involved in resolving conflicts. This is a true story and yet it reads like a novel. Lemmon wanted her readers, who will never visit Afghanistan, to pick up her book and realize just how similar their struggles are with those of the story’s characters.

The joy of reporting, the power of storytelling, the well-researched details on everyday life in Kabul during the Taliban period, and Lemmon’s work experience in conflict and post-conflict areas such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Rwanda provide sufficient evidence that Lemmon has achieved her goals in this true story of courage, determination, and faith. By writing Kamila’s story, Lemmon not only inspires her readers to pursue their dreams despite any obstacles, but she also reveals the “countless quiet feats of courage” in a country that, to foreigners, it is known for “its rocket attacks and roadside bombs” (p. 229).

The dressmaker of Khair Khana is the product of several years of detailed research, reporting, and in-depth interviewing at Afghanistan,Rwanda, and Bosnia. Lemmon manages to evoke the atmosphere of daily life in Kabul during the Taliban occupation, and particularly women’s hardships and their role in resolving conflicts. These heroines found creative ways to work around the Taliban system, to provide the basic necessities for their families, and to support each other and their community. This is a fascinating story that embraces women’s active involvement in political, economical, and business decisions.

  • Copyright © Harikleia Georgiou Sirmans 2011-2023. All rights reserved.
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