Published March 20, 2012
Trade paperback, 304 pages
What an uplifting and inspirational book! It has made it to my list of best reads for 2012. This is a book that celebrates women as unheralded heroines, telling of their quiet courage, their grace under fire, and their determination to use their skills to survive in impossible situations. It is, in particular, the story of Kamila Sidiqi, who was but a teenager when Afghanistan came under Taliban rule, leaving her in the scary position of caring for her younger siblings when her father and brother were forced to flee.
Journalist Gayle Tzemach Lemmon has unveiled a side to Afghanistan that is virtually undiscovered by most people. We all witnessed on TV or newspapers the fully covered burqa-clad women who were stripped of their rights by being confined to their homes, not allowed to get an education, not allowed to interact with men who were not family, and not allowed to be in public without a mahram, or male relative. Cut off from the world and in desperate need to provide for their families because they are widows or have their men fighting in the war, these women had to find a way to survive. This is the Afghanistan we heard of, but The Dressmaker of Khair Khana tells the story of triumph and not defeat.
Despite all of the difficult restrictions and the dangers of being beaten on the street if a Talib deemed a woman was immodest simply because too much wrist showed, Kamila managed to start a thriving tailoring business, without any prior experience, and helped other women in her community to support their families. Her story is admirable and remarkable. She forged ahead even when the risks were too high. She is an estimable example for all women, whether as an entrepreneur, sister, daughter, friend and woman of faith.
I did not want this book to end. It touched me deeply. It read like a novel, thanks to Lemmon's superb storytelling techniques after putting together her research gathered by visiting war-torn and dangerous Kabul many times. Her perseverance in interviewing the women, travelling long hours, and immersing herself in the culture both by learning the language and dressing like the women in Kabul, paid off in bringing us a story that showed what daily life was like for women during the Taliban years.
Lemmon has succeeded in shifting our view of women as victims in wartime to intelligent, dignified and beautiful beings who have fought a suppressive regime armed not with weapons but with wisdom, courage, and true guts. I highly recommend all to read this book. You will not easily forget it. Well-told, well-written and well worth the read.
Note: This book is rated C = clean read.
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Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a Fellow and Deputy Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at the Council on Foreign Relations and a contributing editor-at-large at Newsweek and The Daily Beast. Her reporting on conflict and post-conflict zones— including Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Rwanda—has been published in the New York Times, Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, and elsewhere. She lives in Los Angeles.
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