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Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Books - The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Star rating – 8/10

This is the fascinating, moving, and very well written true story of the way one young woman fought back against the repressive Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Kamila Sidiqi didn’t set out to be a rebel, just to assuage the relentless boredom that came with the new enforced domestication for women banned from earning a living or getting an education outside of their own homes, and to feed her five brothers and sisters.

Kamila achieved this and much more through taking up the art of dressmaking, which she had previously shown little interest in, preferring instead a much more academic route. After her parents had to flee to the north of the country to escape her father having to fight for the Taliban, her big sister showed her the basics of sewing, and she was soon impressing local traders who were eager to buy her wares.

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon tells this extraordinary story from her own experience after meeting these women when on a journalistic assignment. This book brings home very effectively through the everyday struggles of Kamila and her family, just how oppressive the new regime was for women. The clothing they were allowed to wear was heavily proscribed, with the heavy coverall chadri needing to be worn at all times when outside the home. If women did venture outside their home, they had to be accompanied by a male mahram, or chaperone. And they lived in perpetual fear of displeasing the Taliban for some minor infringement of their harsh regime or other. Even laughing aloud in public was banned, but as Lemmon observes, ‘there seemed little risk of breaking that rule these days.’

The book is heart-warming amongst all the harshness of the Taliban rule. There is a very amusing anecdote about how ‘Titanic’ fever swept the country after the blockbuster film was released on video. The Taliban tried to ban it but to no avail. They even tried to ban men from having haircuts like Leonardo Decaprio had in the film, with mixed success.

Kamila’s enterprise was so successful that after roping in all her family to join in the dressmaking, she soon attracts local girls who flock to her house to be able to join in, to learn a new skill, and to be given a scarce opportunity to earn money to feed their families. And it doesn’t stop there, as she soon finds herself setting up a school to teach young women these basics, and then being hailed internationally as a successful women entrepreneur. It is a great book, very easy to read, and a true story to lift the spirit.


  1. I am delighted to hear you enjoyed "The Dressmaker of Khair Khana," and I appreciate your terrific post.

    Champions like you have made all the difference for this story about the unsung heroines and inspiring entrepreneurs all around us.

  2. This story shows the triumphant tenacity of a woman who refused to be shackled by the laws of the Taliban. A woman who found a way to start a successful enterprise when there really wasn't any hope that such a thing could happen.

    Imagine. A seemingly simple business sewing clothing became a victory over an oppression of the Taliban. Perhaps Bush should have gone into this war with seamstresses and tailors with needles and thread rather than soldiers with guns and bombs.

    When I think of the bravery this woman exhibited, and the bravery of those who worked with her, to make this daring business endeavor even be attempted I am inspired. Inspired knowing anything is possible if you follow where your heart tells you to go.