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.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Source: Publisher, via Net Galley.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon – Book Review

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
Published by Delta, an imprint of Random House
This is the 2nd book in the series, review may contain spoilers for earlier books

Claire and Jaime are back again, trying now to prevent the battle at Culloden Field, in which Claire knows thousands of highland men will die. In an attempt to change history, they travel together to France to try to subvert the cause of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

“Dragonfly in Amber” has perhaps the most confusing opening of any book I have ever read. When we last left Claire at the end of “Outlander,” she had decided not to go back to her own time, but to stay with Jaime. At the beginning of “Dragonfly in Amber,” she is back in the present with a grown daughter, trying to find out who of all of the men she had known made it alive through the battle at Culloden Field. I wondered if I had skipped a page in “Dragonfly in Amber,” or whether I had misinterpreted or misremembered the end of “Outlander.” Before too long, though, it all made sense again, and I was happy to be back, drawn into the lives of Claire and Jamie once more.

As with “Outlander,” I felt that “Dragonfly in Amber” was just a bit too long. And really, it is a testament to Gabaldon’s writing and storytelling that her 800+ page books are only a little too long, and not painfully too long. Still, though, it makes me hesitate a bit to get to the later books, which are even longer. Even so, I am loving these books and have no plans to stop the series any tiem soon.

Recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Source: Personal copy.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

The Gospel of Anarchy by Justin Taylor – Book Review

The Gospel of Anarchy by Justin Taylor
Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of Harper Collins

Disillusioned with his empty and unfulfilling existence, David accidentally finds a new life while walking aimlessly late one night. When he finds an old friend, Thomas, digging through a dumpster to find uneaten sandwiches to take back to his anarchists’ collective, David returns with him, determined to find anything more meaningful than work at a call center and internet porn. At Fishgut, Thomas’s home, David finds himself becoming involved with two women, Katy and Liz, and the religious fervor which has grown up around a former housemate who has disappeared, and of which Katy is the champion.

In “The Gospel of Anarchy,” Justin Taylor has written a beautiful book about human weakness and our desire to connect and grow, our need for something bigger than ourselves. I am as surprised as anyone to call a book beautiful that has, in the beginning of the first chapter, an extensive scene regarding a character’s porn-viewing habits, but David’s pain and self-loathing is manifest in that scene, and his desire to change his life and his circumstances is incredibly moving. None of the characters are particularly likable, but they are written with such empathy and they are so indicative of the human spirit that they are impossible to ignore. Perhaps these characters have different vices than most of us, but they are no more flawed than we are and, like all of us, deeply long for physical and spiritual connection.

One thing that works very well in “The Gospel of Anarchy” is Taylor’s hodgepodge of styles. Within chapters the point of view changes from character to character, from first person for David to third person for the rest of the housemates. At one point, the tense even changes between past and present. Considering this entire book is about anarchists, however, this added to the veracity of the story being told and, surprisingly, managed not to be distracting.

Highly recommended, but definitely not for everyone. I love it as an exploration of the role of religion and human connection in our lives, but sensitive readers may be turned off by some of the language and sexuality.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Source: Publisher via NetGalley.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.