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Review: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana (Gayle Tzemach Lemmon)

Title: The Dressmake of Khair Khan: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep them Safe
Author: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Genre: Adult non-fiction
Pages: 235
Rating: 4 out of 5
Challenges: Reading from my shelves
FTC Disclosure: I bought this book
Summary (from the inside flap of the book): The life Kamila Sidiqi had known changed overnight when the Taliban seized control of the city of Kabul. After receiving a teaching degree during the civil war--a rare achievement for an Afghan woman--Kamila was subsequently banned from school and confined to her home. When her father and brother were forced to flee the city, Kamila became the sole breadwinner for her five siblings. Armed only with grit and determination, she picked up a needle and thread and created a thriving business of her own.

Review: Every time I read another book about Afghanistan, and in particular a book that is about Afghan women, I think I am going to read the same story as before. However, each woman's experience under the Taliban is slightly different and so, each time I learn something new and get a different perspective on this country in the news.

I've seen this one around the blogosphere and there were some mixed reviews. Since so many reviews have already been done, here's my summary:


  • Moved too slowly. It was half way through the book before we got into the sewing business. However, I do think some background was necessary to understand Kamila and her situation
  • I wanted more about the women's personalities. I know this is non-fiction, but I wanted more character development
  • Although it is non-fiction it reads like a novel. I definitely had to remind myself that it was a true story
  • What wonderful, strong women! Kamila and her sisters and friends took risks, challenged themselves, and made a great success
  • The surrounding story (Afghanistan, Taliban) is interesting and well told
Geography Connection:

(photo credit for right photo)

Click to see my updated Google Map. Another book set in Afghanistan, but somehow I feel like I learn more and different things from each one I read!


Athira said...

I had a mixed response as well to this. I enjoyed the read and totally admired the women, but I wish there was more background and better character development.

Helen's Book Blog said...

Aths--interesting that we had the same complaints and likes for this book

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I do have this one but haven't read it. Sounds like a bit of a yawner to me.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

I have found that a lit lately.... books take so long to get going... still sounds wonderful :)

Helen's Book Blog said...

Diane--I don't think it was a yawner, just a bit slow moving

Sheila--I do think it's worth reading to learn more about another culture, one that our country is so embroiled in at the moment

MissA said...

This is funny (not haha funny, just like 'oh what a coincidence') because April commented on my review of Barefoot in Baghdad recommending I try The Dressmaker of Khair Kahana. And then I see that you reviewed it!

I don't mind slow memoirs/nonfiction becuase I do think it's important to get background info on the characters but I hope it reads like a novel, a page-turner. Definitely going to give this book a try, hopefully this summer since I've dedicated myself to reading more books about aid agencies/non profits/ordinary people doing extraordinary things :)

Helen's Book Blog said...

Miss A--This one definitely reads like a novel, but it doesn't deal so much with agencies, as it does with this one woman's efforts to create work for herself, her siblings, and their friends. Still worth the read though.