Thursday, March 24, 2011

Review: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

Summary: The life Kamila Sidiqi had known changed overnight when the Taliban seized control of the city of Kabul. After receiving a teaching degree during the civil war—a rare achievement for any Afghan woman—Kamila was subsequently banned from school and confined to her home. When her father and brother were forced to flee the city, Kamila became the sole breadwinner for her five siblings. Armed only with grit and determination, she picked up a needle and thread and created a thriving business of her own. 

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana tells the incredible true story of this unlikely entrepreneur who mobilized her community under the Taliban. Former ABC News reporter Gayle Tzemach Lemmon spent years on the ground reporting Kamila's story, and the result is an unusually intimate and unsanitized look at the daily lives of women in Afghanistan. These women are not victims; they are the glue that holds families together; they are the backbone and the heart of their nation. 

Afghanistan's future remains uncertain as debates over withdrawal timelines dominate the news. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana moves beyond the headlines to transport you to an Afghanistan you have never seen before. This is a story of war, but it is also a story of sisterhood and resilience in the face of despair. Kamila Sidiqi's journey will inspire you, but it will also change the way you think about one of the most important political and humanitarian issues of our time. -- Harper

I'm sure this is going to sound familiar to some of you book bloggers out there. Do you ever get frustrated because you have so many review commitments and can't actually "get" to some really good books on your shelves? I know I constantly struggle with this -- so many good books, so little time! So when I picked up my People Magazine a few days ago and saw a Four Star review for THE DRESSMAKER OF KHAIR KHANA by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, I decided that I had to read I just dropped everything and spent a few uninterrupted hours reading this book.

And boy am I glad I did because I thought THE DRESSMAKER OF KHAIR KHANA was an excellent book. I couldn't put this book down. It only took a few pages for me to become caught up in the incredible story of Kamila and her family. I was blown away by the strength and resilience (not to mention the courage) of Kamila. But at the same time, I was appalled by the changes that occurred in Afghanistan after the Taliban took over the government. There were times when I couldn't believe that these events were happening in our world, and I was deeply angered and, at the same time saddened, that so many innocent people's lives were destroyed. As I read this book (and even for days after), I couldn't help but reflect on world events as well as how incredibly fortunate I was just to be born in the United States.

I am still reeling from Kamila and her family's story. Kamila is truly an incredibly person (as were her sisters, her parents, and so many women in this story.) After the Taliban took over, Kamila's parents left Khair Khana and Kamila was desperate to find a way to support her brother and sisters. Kamila decides to become a seamstress and sell her wares to various stores in Kabul. Consider that this is in a time when women couldn't walk the streets with a male chaperone and women were required to be full covered and only had a very small opening through which they could see.

What's even more unbelievable to me is that Kamila didn't even know how to sew when she came up with this plan -- that's how resourceful and determined she was to provide for her family. Somehow, Kamila not only learned to sew, but had much success in selling her outfits to local stores. In addition, Kamila felt as if she had to help more than just her family -- she truly wanted to help others. So she hires other women from her neighborhood to sew and that still wasn't enough. Kamila then she begins school to teach women how to be seamstresses. And Kamila didn't stop there. She has devoted her life to helping women in unfortunately situations.

And this is the part of my review which probably is going to sound a little strange. While I did adore THE DRESSMAKER OF KHAIR KHANA (and I truly did), I still felt as if this book could have had more details. I'm not one for adding unnecessary pages to a book just to make it longer; however, I felt as if I was left wanting a little bit more information. I absolutely adored Kamira and her sisters, yet I felt as if I wasn't able to truly connect with them. I understood their stories and their actions, but I wanted more about their feelings and fears. Does that make sense?

Having said that, I was still so moved by this book and I thought the story was quite powerful. Of course, I was disheartened by everything that has occurred in Afghanistan; however, this book absolutely showed that beautiful things can come out of any tragedy. Through Kamila's story, I was reminded of how strong and courageous people can be when facing challenges. In fact, I thought THE DRESSMAKER OF KHAIR KHAHA was one of the most inspiring books I've read in recent memory.

I do think this book would make an excellent pick for book clubs. It is not only educational, but it reflects on so many universal themes about humankind. There is a reading guide available which touches upon many of the things I've mentioned in this review like the role of women, family dynamics, responsibility, resourcefulness, etc. However, it also brings to light some questions about faith, economic hardships, oppression, and war. There is quite a bit to discuss and I think most female book groups would love to delve into this story.

Needless to say, I highly recommend THE DRESSMAKER OF KHAIR KHANA! It's a must-read as far as I'm concerned.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book.


Beth F said...

I know what you mean about some books needing a bit more details. Sounds as if the larger story was so captivating that the details about Kamira and her sisters somehow got lost. Regardless, it sounds great.

Sandy Nawrot said...

The only exposure I've had to stories like this is A Thousand Splendid Suns, which really opened my eyes to the plight of women in the Middle East. I just love stories like this though. It always makes me take a look at my own life, with my whining about how I need to lose weight or how the kids are driving me crazy, and I just want to smack myself. We have no idea what problems are.

bermudaonion said...

When I read something like that it makes me realize how fortunate I was to be born into the circumstances I was. I can't wait to read this book!

Meghan said...

I completely agree with you Julie - I was captivated by the book and found it really inspiring but would have loved just a bit more detail.

Meghan @ Medieval Bookworm

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I've heard good things about this book also. Even though I no longer get People! :--) (This year I picked Bookmarks for a present for myself instead of People, but who knows next Christmas!)

Anonymous said...

I so know what you mean about having so many books to read but having to bump one up in the rotation. This does sound like one of those books that require you to read them right away. I've heard so many good reviews of this I may just do the same.

Karlie said...

This one sounds great!

Unknown said...

Thank you so much for your review of "The Dressmaker of Khair Khana." This universal story celebrates the women who pull their families through impossible times and almost never receive credit for it. I am so delighted to see women like you spread the word because together I believe we can change the conversation about women and war - and just maybe we can change the world by reminding people of the unsung heroines and unlikely entrepreneurs who make a difference every day.
My thanks and very best,
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Rebecca Rasmussen said...

I can't wait to read this! Great review! I love that you dropped everything and read it :)

Athira said...

I love it that this book pulled me in right away! I admired Kamila and her sisters! But I had issues with the writing.

Beth(bookaholicmom) said...

This book sounds amazing! stories like this do make me realize just how fortunate we are. I am very curious about this story after reading your wonderful review. It will go on my must read list!

Swapna said...

I do agree that the book could have used more detail, but I totally agree with your review. I really enjoyed this one!