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

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The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is one of those books you pick up to read and never forget: an emotional event and a reading experience about a dynamic woman of courage. In 1996, Kamila Sidiqi received her certificate of studies from Sayed Jamaluddin Teaching Institute in Kabul, Afganistan. Her immediate plans to become a teacher abruptly terminated when the Taliban infiltrated her city, Khair Khana, shortly thereafter.

Suddenly, her world would operate within the confines of three life changing edicts announced by the Taliban:

Women will stay at home. Women are not permitted to work. Women must wear the chadri in public.” (Lemmon, p16)

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon went to Afghanistan to find a story, a story of hope not destruction and evil. Without a doubt, there are countless stories about destruction and evil, the devastation from years of war that the Afghans have endured, the heinous punishment inflicted under Taliban rule. Lemmon has dug deeper to find the stories of women, women with strength and courage to continue life with determination and unstoppable drive despite the blanket of terror that covers their daily life. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is the story of one amazing woman, Kamila Sidiq.

When Kamila’s parents are forced to evacuate to northern Afghanistan, she is left to take care of her brothers and sisters. She has no source of income and no ability to work outside her home. Walking outside presents a constant state of peril at the risk of encountering the lurking Taliban. A male escort must accompany her at all times. The fear from tortuous reprisals and possible imprisonment are real.

Kamila is confined inside her home with her siblings, and they pass the time reading, often the same book again and again. When anxiety and boredom arise along with worries for the future, Kamila brainstorms ways to make money. She has an innate sense for business, and she develops a plan to sew dresses. She thinks like an entrepreneur, a businesswoman who only sees possibilities, the glass always half full. She would obliterate her competition were she to compete on the television show The Apprentice. She has an unselfish and generous spirit, a tireless leader who wants to engage other women in her adventure. What is most uncanny is that Kamila had no clue how to sew, but had confidence in her own ability to learn. She accepted her first order having never sewed a dress before. Some would say that her move was foolish; others might say she has the actions of an optimist. Her methods and business acumen make reading this astonishing story remarkable.

Lemmon captivates readers with wonder as she relates how one woman refuses to be a victim and in doing so becomes the teacher she wanted to be by influencing women everywhere. Lemmon’s book is unforgettable. Readers will be grateful that she has introduced us to Kamila Sidiqi, a fascinating woman who is making a difference.

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