The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon – Book Review

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Published by Harper Books, an imprint of Harper Collins

Always a strong and opinionated young woman, Kamila Sidiqi is not entirely sure what to do with herself once the Taliban overruns her home city of Kabul. She can no longer go to school, or indeed go outside with any freedom whatsoever. To make matters worse, Kamila’s older brother and father must flee to avoid being conscripted or punished by the Taliban and Kamila’s mother leaves with her father, leaving her five youngest children – nearly all in their teens – at home alone rather than risk their lives on a dangerous trip. As the oldest of the children left behind, Kamila is determined to do whatever it takes to care for her siblings, but to ensure that they are materially comfortable, she needs to find a way to make money, not an easy task since the Taliban will generally not let women work outside the home, or go anywhere without a male relative as an escort. Kamila is a resourceful young girl, however, and it is not long before she comes up with a plan: she and her sisters will become seamstresses, taught by their accomplished older sister who is married, but still lives in Kabul. All of the girls will work together to create the dresses, and Kamila will sell them to tailor shops in the market place. Clothing is, after all, one of the few items which people are still in Kabul.

I love portraits of people, particularly women, around the world, particularly when they show the strength of the human spirit through adversity. Looking at “The Dressmaker of Khair Khana” in that light, it was a fascinating book; Kamila and her sisters were incredibly brave and resourceful, finding a way to not only maintain their own household, but to provide work for numerous local girls and women as well.

Unfortunately, Lemmon’s writing and storytelling failed to captivate me. Everything seemed very flat. The danger inherent in their lives was stated, but never felt particularly urgent, nor was the political situation explored with much complexity, which disappointed me. The writing was very straightforward, but to the point where it, too, seemed to lack complexity.

“The Dressmaker of Khair Khana” failed to challenge me and, as such, I cannot recommend it wholeheartedly for adults, although people with particular interest in the lives of women in the Muslim world may find interesting. I do, however, think that this would be an inspiring and completely appropriate book for younger teens who wish to explore the realities of people in war-torn areas of the world.

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Source: Publisher, via Net Galley.
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