Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

In 2005, Gayle Lemmon headed to Afghanistan, looking for stories of women entrepreneurs, women who had built businesses there, despite the fact they were living in a war zone. She intended to tell the story of Afghan businesswomen who emerged after the Taliban's takeover. What was it like for the women left behind as men were forced to flee the country? The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, the story of one courageous, enterprising young woman, is an inspiring story for all women.

Kamila Sidiqi came from a family of nine girls and two boys. Mr. Sidiqi had seen enough of the world to believe that all of his children should be educated, including his girls. Kamila had just received her teaching certificate when the Taliban took over in Kabul in 1996. But, when the Taliban took Kabul, they immediately forbade girls to go to school. Women were also barred from working outside the home, and even forbidden to leave th,eir home without a male relative. If they did, they were in danger of being beaten, imprisoned, or even shot. And, men were being rounded up, forced to join the Taliban. With Mr. Sidiqi's past in the military, he knew he might be considered an enemy, so he left the area. His wife and oldest son soon followed, leaving Kamila at home with her four younger sisters and younger brother. When her father left, he told Kamila he was counting on her to be a leader for her sisters.

In a riveting story that reads like a novel, Lemmon tells of Kamila's success. Somehow she had to find a way to make a living for herself and her family. Calling on her older sister for help, she learned a dressmaking  skill, and set out to sell dresses to merchants. Despite ongoing dangers and threats of arrest at any time, Kamila built a business that helped not only her family to survive, but numerous other women, widows and young women who became sometimes the only support for their families. It's hard to imagine young American women of eighteen or nineteen taking on such a role under constant threat. But, Kamila's family business grew so much it came to the attention of international organizations, and by the time the Taliban were pushed out of Kabul in 2001, Kamila was working to train other women. Eventually, she had trained more than 900 of her countrymen and women so they had skills to build and grow their own businesses.

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is fascinating. Mr. Sidiqi had taught Kamila that "Learning was the key to the future - both her own and her country's." It's a lesson she took to heart in the five years under the Taliban, and the years since as she continued to help others. It's so hard to imagine what Kamila Sidiqi did, with the help of her sisters, building a business that grew to support not only their family, but so many others. The author says, "They were just kids trying to survive another year of war together with no parents to watch over them." The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is an inspiring, moving story of courage. 

Gayle Lemmon's website is

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. HarperCollins. ©2011. ISBN 9780061732379 (hardcover), 257p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book


bermudaonion said...

I didn't realize this is a true story. You've made me even more anxious to read it.

Ingrid King said...

This sounds like an amazing story. Thanks for bringing this to my attention, Lesa - yet another addition to the ever growing TBR pile.

Lesa said...

It is a true story, Kathy. You're right. It makes it all the more interesting.

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Ingrid. I think you'd like this one.

Inside A Book said...

I am always so glad that I live in a day and age when stories like this can get published and read. What fortitude and bravery these young women had. Were I in their shoes I am not sure I would have had the bravery or courage. I so admire those who do!!

Thanks for sharing a great recommendation. As always, you are tempting me to add to my ever-growing pile, but this one is going on top!

Have a beautiful Sunday!

Lesa said...

Thank you, Inside a Book. I don't know that I would have their courage, either. And, I doubt very much if I would have had it at eighteen or nineteen. So many of these women were just young women trying to feed their families. It's an unbelievable story.

Gayle Lemmon said...

What a terrific review. Thank you for your thoughts on this story of family, faith and unsung heroines. Please visit anytime at should you have questions. Bringing this story to readers has been such a journey, and I am delighted "The Dressmaker" has champions like you.
Very best and thanks,
Gayle Lemmon

Lesa said...

Actually, Gayle, I talked about "The Dressmaker" way back at the beginning of December when I spoke to the book group at Thunderbird School of Management. They wanted me to suggest international books for them to read this year. They were so pleased to discover Kamila spent time there, and they planned to discuss the book when she could come. But, with a new baby, I don't know if she'll make it. I was hoping to attend that discussion.

I was impressed with the book, and one of the other librarians took it. Good luck with it.

kathy d. said...

This is an amazing story of triumph by a young woman over awful circumstances -- which are still going on and impacting on so many women.

Thanks for the review and the information.

It's good to know of women who succeed in these situations. It is inspirational.

Lesa said...

I agree, Kathy. It is inspirational to see these women found a way to succeed. I don't know that I would have had their strength and courage, particularly at that young age.

Kris said...

This sounds like an amazing story and one I would enjoy. This is the first I've heard of it too, thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Lesa said...

It was amazing, Kris. I love to let readers know about books they might not have seen. Thanks!

France said...

t is a story of strength and survival. The telling is very simple, although I got a little lost at times with the multiple siblings and neighbors. It is a story with a lot of hope and highlights the unique strength of women in oppressive regimes. It isn't really a political history, or even a social history. It doesn't claim to be an "average" woman's tale and I would have liked a bit more insight into how other women (esp those with less fortunate families) compared to Kamela's story, but that's probably a different book.