Reader reviews for Dressmaker of Khair Khana : Five Sisters, One Remarkable ...

By now we are all quite familiar with the strictures placed on women by the Taliban in Afghanistan. The news has bombarded us with images of the burqua-clad women trailing their male chaperones, women who had no choice but to follow the rules of one of the most repressive and highly moralistic regimes around. But what happened to the women who no longer had the protection of a male family member or of only a young boy? How on earth were they to survive in the unbending and dangerous to women world of the Taliban?Kamila Sidiqi is one of five sisters who were still at home when the Taliban took over Kabul. She had just received her teaching degree despite the dangers posed by the civil war raging through the country when the Taliban took Kabul, trapping women in their homes and rendering Sidiqi's valuable degree useless. Worse yet for her family, her father had served under several previous governments, putting him at extreme risk and he eventually fled to some semblence of safety, leaving his family behind. Sidiqi's older brother also leaves Afghanistan for Iran in hopes of being able to find work and to avoid any reprisals against his family for his father's prior loyalties. This leaves the women of the family with only their young, school-aged brother as a chaperone and no visible means of support.But Kamila Sidiqi is an incredibly driven and resourceful woman and she hatches the idea of creating a dressmaking business that will stave off their impending poverty. Learning to sew from an older sister, she and her sisters carefully created a viable home industry right under the noses of the Taliban. And not only did their business provide the support of their own family, but they also taught other women from the neighborhood to sew as well in order to support their families as well. Over the five year span of the Taliban's oppressive rule, Sidiqi, with only her young brother to chaperone her as she negotiated with the male shopkeepers at their local market, created a grass roots business that saved many families from starvation, especially those like her own where the older men had had no choice but to flee the country leaving their wives and daughters unprotected and without a male presence.Lemmon traveled to and from Afghanistan for many years, through the escalating tensions, war in the street, and US bombings in order to chronicle the perseverence, determination, and entreprenurial spirit in women like Kamila Sidiqi that the Taliban had been unable to contain. Lemmon tells the story as if it was a novel, creating dialogue for her subjects despite clearly writing this years after the events she's chronicling. Lemmon's background as a journalist is very evident here as well with the writing coming across as very journalistic, simplistic, and oddly enough, given the content of the story, emotionally distant. She also periodically thrusts herself and the present day into the story she's reporting which comes off as mildly distracting. What must have been the overwhelming tension of day to day living interpsersed with moments of heart pounding terror is not all that well conveyed; instead it is reported but muffled, muted. And there seem to be some rather big omissions in Lemmon's writing about these brave Sidiqi girls. Why did the girls' mother stay in the north of Afghanistan after her husband left for Iran instead of going back to Kabul to help her daughters? How did the young women learn to sew so well so quickly that they could create a thriving cottage industry? Why was there still a market for clothing when people couldn't even find enough to eat? How did the economics of this venture work out? Why did these shopkeepers, who were also acting contrary to the Taliban's restrictions and therefore in danger, cooperate with Kamila Sidiqi and her incredibly young mahram (chaperone)?The story itself is impressive and inspiring, putting a face on the suffering and devastation first of a militant, oppressive, and misogynistic regime and then of a terrible, destructive war but it is also the moving chronicle of unbroken spirit, the will to live, and the sort of woman who can move mountains and change the world. For those interested in another facet of the reality of Afghanistan under the Taliban, this will fill in some of the picture. That these women persevered and succeeded even in the face of threats of beatings, imprisonment, or death is incredibly awe-inspiring and humbling.
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the story was better than the telling but I love to see the strength of women in adversity
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For all of you who, like me, tend to avoid non-fiction thinking it dry and sleep inducing, I say: READ 'The Dressmaker of Khair Khana'!! You will have to remind yourself that what you are reading really happened; these amazing women really exist; there is an Afghanistan that we don't see on the news. The front cover reads: 'Five sisters, one remarkable family and the woman who risked everything to keep them safe'. I do take issue with that statement. Kamila wasn't the only one to risk everything, she just led the way. And she didn't just keep her family safe - she kept them safe and fed and did the same for so many other women and their families as well. My eyes have been opened. In every war-torn, poverty-ridden, calamity-hit country in this world, there are women working behind the scenes, without recognition, to pull their families and friends through.As an equal opportunity blog, I have to also touch upon the men in the lives of these women. They deserve their space as well. The thing that amazed me most about this story was not the tenacity of the women in saving their families, women do that every day, although usually under more favorable circumstances. What really struck me was the support these women received from the men around them - even, eventually, from the Taliban itself.The only 'culture shock' I suffered was in considering the actions of Kamila's parents. I felt myself wanting to judge their actions during this unreal time. It took some work to convince me that, as much as I can read and understand the words, I have no real understanding of life in Afghanistan during Taliban rule. These people understood the system and what they needed to do to survive. The parents survived, the brothers survived, the sisters, against all odds, not only survived, they thrived. And the story of how they did it makes for one of the most inspirational, feel good books I have read in a long time.
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The Good Stuff * You can really feel the authors love and admiration for the subjects of her book * A hopeful and passionate real life story about resilience, perseverance, communities working together, faith and family * Excellent bibliography for further background information * Many stories of Afghanistan have so many negative male characters and it is nice to actually see stories of Afghan men who support and want more for their women. * Positively Inspiring and hopeful * Rich historical information that really helps you understand how much Afghanistan has gone through * The mention of what I believe to be very true that learning is the key to the future. Handouts don't work, you need to teach skills for those to help themselves * About incredibly strong real women surviving and thriving through extremely difficult timesThe Not so Good Stuff * Jumps around in a few spots and you feel temporarily lost * Would have liked the How you can help section in the ARC - but hey I think that might be me getting a little picky - they probably wanted to put up to date info for finished productFavorite Quotes/Passages"We're far more accustomed to-and comfortable with-seeing women portrayed as victims of war who deserve our sympathy, rather than as resilient survivors who demand our respect.""As he often told the eleven of them, "I look on all of you with one eye." To him it was his highest obligation and a duty of his faith to educate his children so that they could share their knowledge and serve their communities. Now he watched with a sinking heart as the Taliban closed girls' schools and forced women inside.""The more time I spent in Kabul the more I saw what they saw and the more I understood their frustration. I also wondered if this latest international foray into Afghan nation-building would end well for anyone.""Brave young women complete heroic acts everyday, with no one bearing witness. This was a chance to even the ledger, to share one small story that made the difference between starvation and survival for the families whose lives it changed."What I Learned * Incredible amounts of historical information about the history of Afghanistan * That I know very little about the lives of the Afghan people * That I had some prejudices about Afghanistan and this book helped me to realize how wrong I was in thinking some of the things I did. I have a new-found respect for their resilience and their strugglesWho should/shouldn't read * I would recommend that everyone read this. Pretty much everyone could benefit from reading this * Thinking many of the strict Taliban wouldn't be into this * This is a must have for every library4.5 Dewey'sI received this from HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review. Once again Harper you have introduced me to something that I probably never would have picked out myself
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More of a long report than a full book.There is no doubt that Kamilla Sidiqi is an amazing woman who courageously supported her family as well as many other members of the community during the Taliban regime. However, the book lacks depth and feels more like an extended report than the characters telling their story from their hearts. The author has written many articles for prestigious publications in the US, but that is how this book read, rather than as a full length biography.Having said that, I did learn a few things about life under the Taliban that I wasn't previously aware of, in spite of having read a number of books set in Afghanistan at this time. I hadn't realised that the young men who tyranised the streets and battered women who suposedly enfringed the rules, were in fact war orphans, raised by Taliban teachers in madrassas and had been brainwashed into believing that these women were evil. They hadn't had contact with women in their childhoods, no mothers, sisters nor aunts to love them. On the other hand, many local Taliban leaders respected the efforts the women in their communities were making and supported from them behind the scenes. There is a lovely episode in the book where Kamilla and her sisters make a number of wedding dresses at very short notice, which turn out to have been for a Taliban wedding.The writing is rather repetitive in parts, for instance, repeatedly telling us how dangerous it was to go out of the house without a male escort from your family. Yet some areas lacked explanation such as Mrs Sidiqi coming home from the north for a few months after her husband left for Iran and then, for no obvious reason, returning north even though he was no longer there.My book group read this and gave an average of 3 to 3.5 stars. Many had read several other books set in Afghanisatn and didn't feel that this was the best.
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This is an eye opening inspirational book about life in Kabul under the Taliban and the bombing of Kabul after terrorist attack in September 2001. It shows, through Kamila, the ingenuity and fighting spirit of the people and how they adapt their skills to survive. The story could be better written but is still a compelling fast read (read in one day). It was nice to see the perspective of the innocent civilians stuck in the war and how eye opening that the women had never seen or even owned a burkha until the Taliban came. Before that, they were quite adventurous women - who partied in stylish western wear, educated themselves, and were very respected by men. The story shows us how precious our freedom to learn and to teach is. Kamila’s freedom ends in an unexpected moment and this thrust her into a situation where she draws on every ounce of resiliency and courage to survive and thrive. The small things I did not like was how was there a market for suits and dresses when it seemed like everyone was out of work and going hungry. Also how did she learn to make a dress in one afternoon and instantly teach her sisters? Overall still a very good book!
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This was an inspiring story about hope, optimism and persistence in the face of remarkable odds for the women of a household in an area of Kabul during the reign of the Taliban. At the beginning of the book, I found the author's account of arriving in Afghanistan to be a bit off putting. Then somehow her voice is lost in the narrative as she relates the story of Kamila and her sisters.After the recent controversy over Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea, I find myself a bit skeptical of this story in part because of the amount of dialogue recorded that the author could not have been present to record. There are other parts of the story that are difficult for me to understand: how both parents could leave their children, mostly female, unprotected to hold down the fort in the city. Maybe it's a lack of cultural understanding on my part, or perhaps there's a piece to the Taliban occupation I'm missing. But if family is everything as is repeated often in the narrative, then I don't understand the parents leaving.Nevertheless the story is inspiring. I appreciated the epilogue at the end with the "where they are now" section and the comments about possible future concerns.
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The dressmaker of Khair Khana is the inspiring story of Kamila Sidiqi who created a thriving sewing business in the living room of her own house, when the Taliban occupied the city of Kabul and banned women from nearly all public places including schools. Confined to their homes, women's lives virtually changed overnight. When Kamila's father and brother fled the city, Kamila became the breadwinner of her family. Kamila believed whole heartedly that "by starting her own business and helping other women do the same, she could help save her long-troubled country." (p. xxvi)The journalist in Lemmon wants to know where Kamila's passion originates, and how her story affects Afghanistan's future and its partnership with America. She also hopes that her book will change the tradition that women are portrayed as victims of war and pitied. Instead they are survivors of war whose bravery and determination held their families and communities together. In addition, they should be involved in resolving conflicts. This is a true story and yet it reads like a novel. Lemmon wanted her readers, who will never visit Afghanistan, to pick up her book and realize just how similar their struggles are with those of the story's characters.The joy of reporting, the power of storytelling, the well-researched details on everyday life in Kabul during the Taliban period, and Lemmon's work experience in conflict and post-conflict areas such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Rwanda provide sufficient evidence that Lemmon has achieved her goals in this true story of courage, determination, and faith. By writing Kamila's story, Lemmon not only inspires her readers to pursue their dreams despite any obstacles, but she also reveals the "countless quiet feats of courage" in a country that, to foreigners, it is known for "its rocket attacks and roadside bombs" (p. 229).The dressmaker of Khair Khana is the product of several years of detailed research, reporting, and in-depth interviewing at Afghanistan, Rwanda, and Bosnia. Lemmon manages to evoke the atmosphere of daily life in Kabul during the Taliban occupation, and particularly women's hardships and their role in resolving conflicts. These heroines found creative ways to work around the Taliban system, to provide the basic necessities for their families, and to support each other and their community. This is a fascinating story that embraces women's active involvement in political, economical, and business decisions.
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This is a story about a family of women living under the Taliban rule in the 1990’s where the Mother and Father flees from the home to avoid having the family persecuted. The story is remarkable considering that Kamila Sidiqi is in her teenage years when she embarked on taking care of her family to avoid starvation by creating a dressmaking business. The interesting part is that the Taliban forbid women to own a business forcing Kamila to do some very clever and risky moves thus allowing her business to thrive while helping other women in the community support themselves and their families. The book provides inspiration proving that people are capable of doing most anything despite dangerous conditions. And, there is an interesting side story about the movie “Titanic” throwing off the Taliban – Hollywood to the rescue! However, the book lacks a bit in creating more of a depth to the story and jumps around with timelines. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is a quick read and provides a selected bibliography to find more information about the Taliban, human rights and building a community. (Patty Meinking 6/15/12)
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When most of us hear “Afghanistan” what comes to mind are terms like war, Muslim, bombs, and Taliban. We rarely hear any personal stories from this area so when I was presented with the opportunity to read one, I agreed. In the midst of a war, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon uncovers a story of hope and perseverance. “War reshapes women’s lives and often unexpectedly forces them-unprepared-into the role of breadwinner.” –Gayle Tzemach LemmonKamela Sediqi’s life and dreams of becoming a teacher was thrown into disarray when the Taliban came to power in 1996. Kamela did not sulk and wallow in depression about the major changes imposed by the Taliban such as not laughing in public and wearing a full chadri (a veil where your entire head is cover with only a small screen for your eyes). When she and her sisters were about to suffocate from being homebound (another rule imposed by Taliban) and with money becoming scarce she had an idea. Kamela developed her sewing and marketing skills and started a small dressmaking business from her family home. This business blossomed into a school which taught women in their community a skill as well as gave them a sense of independence. Kamela truly possessed a servant’s heart and a selfless attitude. She was always thinking of ways to help her family and empower other women in her community. All the sewing was performed and taught in the Sediqi home which came to be a place of refuge and peace for the women and girls that came. The Sediqi family was pretty close knit. The father played an integral part in the lives of the daughters as far as encouraging them to pursue education but their mother was somewhat disconnected from the story. The oldest sister, Malekheh, and her family moved in with her sisters when their parents and older brother moved away due to the recent Taliban takeover. Malekheh proved to be a big help and encourager to Kamela. One of my favorite characters was Rahim, Kamela’s youngest brother. Rahim played a major role in building the business because he had to go to the market with Kamela and be her mahram (a male companion that no woman could be without while traveling outside of their home). He also learned how to do embroidery which was quite helpful to the dressmaking operation. During many close calls with the Taliban, one being when an AK-147 was put in her face, Kamela was determined to persevere. In the time Kamela was living in there was no place or time for fear. She was a strong willed young woman who remained focused and relied heavily on her faith. At the close of the book, we learn that Kamela started a construction business that was short lived due to heavy competition and that she was recognized on an international level by then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. I was also please that the author included follow ups to the characters we met at the close of the book. So many young women are overcoming and rising above unbelievable odds daily and they go unnoticed. I appreciate Gayle Lemmon going into a war zone to bring us this story of courage and hope. Overall I enjoyed this book but it dragged in the middle and was rushed towards the end. I wanted the story to have more depth it read more like an overview. The timeframe of when the events actually happened was somewhat confusing. The book is written in a way that a younger audience could follow along without getting bogged down. This book would be a good informative read for young adult/teenage readers.
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