Friday, March 4, 2011

ARC Review: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Title: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana
Author: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Genre: Biography/non fiction 
Publisher: Harper Collins
Number of Pages: 288

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana was an amazing book that I read almost in one sitting. I wasn't expecting to get as involved in the sisters lives as I did. This book is based on author interviews with the family involved and is a story that can be read by all ages.
Kamila Sidiqi had just gotten her associate in teaching degree when word came that the Taliban would be invading any day. Rumors swirled at what life would be like under their rule. Rumors soon turned into fact when Kamila and her sisters discovered that they couldn't leave their house without a male escort, and wearing a full burka-which none of them owned. Having their freedom taken away from them literally overnight was hard to adjust to, and the sisters were soon going crazy not being able to leave the house on their own.   Things in Kabul were so bad, that their father left to go up north because as a retired government official under the last regime, he was afraid of being thrown in jail. Their mother soon joined him, and the girls were left alone with their two brothers.  Their oldest brother left Kabul to go to either Pakistan or Iran (I can't remember which) after a few months because the Taliban were recruiting everyone of fighting age to join their army, and to find a job to support their family.

Kamila found herself being the oldest sibling left at home, and suddenly in charge of her younger sisters and brother.  Wanting to find a project for her and her sisters to do so that they could do something with all the time on their hands, she goes to her oldest sister to learn how to sew. When she brings home the dress that she made, her sisters are impressed with how beautiful it is. They hear rumors of women working from home in secret, and Kamila decides that maybe they could go into business sewing clothes. She knows that her sisters all needed a purpose again, and this was the perfect way to do it.

Kamila goes to the market with her youngest brother as an escort to see if they can find shopkeepers who are willing to buy her clothes. This is not as easy at it sounds because the Taliban are every where on the street, and they are known to beat women and harass them for any slight that they imagine-even if the women is fully dressed and with an escort. Kamila finds one shopkeeper who will buy from her and out of fear for her family and to protect the shopkeeper from danger, she gives him a false name, so if he's ever questioned by the Taliban about her, he can say he doesn't know her.  

Kamila's business quietly grows, and she realizes that she and her sisters will need more help in order to complete their orders. They ask a few of their trusted friends from the neighborhood to help them.  As her business grows, word quickly spreads around the neighborhood, and more and more women come to them for jobs. Kamila can't bear to turn any of them away, so she hires as many as she can. She eventually comes up with the idea to start a sewing school to train the women how want to learn how to sew. They have two shifts for the school, but this is not without danger. Kamila and her sisters worry about what will happen if the Taliban discovers all the women coming and going from their house in groups. The women who come to the classes are given a set of rules to follow, and the Taliban leaves them alone for the most part because there are no men attending the classes.

This book is just an amazing read. It's told from a business point of view, and I can't believe what a wonderful job the author did putting together all the interviews from the family.  I don't think my review can do this book justice!

Edited to add: This book takes place from 1997 to 2001.