16 May 2011

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

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. 

Can chick lit be non-fiction?? Let's check the list:
  • fiction that, often humourously, explores issues of modern womanhood (whatever they are) There is not a lot of humour in the story but many 'have to smile', heartwarming moments. As for the issues issue: it is non-fiction so I would say there is no question
  • features young adult women who are primarily career driven Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the women in this book is how young they really are. Many of them are not yet out of their teens. Most of the others are barely out of their teens. Career driven? They had to create a career that would sustain their families and could be done without the women ever being seen working. Or in public alone. Or in public without being covered from head to toe.
  • follows protagonists that are addicted to shopping and how they look Shopping is featured  prominently in Kamila's story - but she's not the one buying (A little cryptic - read the book)
  • may or may not include a romantic plot line There is no romantic love plot line
  • written by women for women Yes - but I wish men would read it. It would give them a whole new appreciation for the women in their lives.
  • 'post-feminist' (any ideas on what that might be??) sure?
There's not much else I can say about 'The Dressmaker of Khair Khana' except this: Don't you just love the cover?


  1. I love a good non-fiction story. Thanks so much for writing about this one.

    Also I have an award for you. Hope you'll stop by http://writegame.blogspot.com and pick it up.

  2. I do loe the cover and have since the very first time I saw it :)

    And thank you so much for that award :D So nice of you

  3. What is so beautiful about Lemmon's telling of Kamila's story is that she allows the facts to speak for themselves. There is no hyperbole or grand drama: the situation was dramatic enough, the role the women played magnificent enough, and the realization of a dream that went far beyond its modest goals of sustenance invigorating enough, that to read the story in its simple and accessible narrative is inspiring enough -- and many times more.

    The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is a book to be shared across genders and generations, a truly uplifting and very true story of how one woman set out to start a business and ended up preserving the dignity of so many women; opened up possibilities for hundreds more; and inspired thousands."


Here's your chance to voice your opinion. We all have them. I'd love to hear yours. I try to respond to all comments so please check back if you are interested in that.