The Dressmaker of Khair Khana takes place in 1996 and tells the story of a young woman named Kamila Sadiqi. She lives in Khair Khana, a district in Kabul, Afghanistan. Kamila has just earned her teaching degree and is excited to being her career as a school teacher. She is walking home one day and hears women talking about the impending invasion of the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist group, in Khair Khana. Kamila and other young women are afraid of what will happen to their rights once the Taliban invade. They have heard stories of the Taliban banning women from receiving education and even working. Days later, their worst fears are realized when the Taliban invade and enforce Sharia law on the civilians of Khair Khana. Under the new regime, women are no longer able to receive an education or have jobs. They must wear a burqa when in public and must never leave the house without a male chaperone. Kamila and her sisters find it hard to adjust to the new rules. They become restless and bored at home. They entertain themselves by reading books they have at home, but they soon find themselves reading the same books over and over again. Families are struggling financially because women are no longer able to work and bring in extra income. Those worse off are families without women. Kamila sees her family struggling and knows that something needs to be done to bring in money. She decides to become a seamstress specializing in women’s clothing. She asks her older sister, Malika to teach her how to sew and embroider and in no time Kamila is running a dressmaking business from the confines of her home. The business is a success and grows to capacities that Kamila could never have dreamed of. The dresses she and the other women make are in high demand with various shopkeepers in Khair Khana. Kamila’s determination and hard work does not go unnoticed. Kamila gets offered a leadership positon working with the United Nations as an educator for women. The events of 9/11 occur and the world suspects that the Taliban are responsible for the attack. Due to the word’s growing suspicions of the Taliban, they evacuate Khair Khana. Things slowly return to normal for Kamila and the residents of Khair Khana. Sharia Law is no longer followed. Women are allowed to return to school and to work and burqas are no longer needed.
This book was an easy read. It is a true account of a woman living in the city of Khair Khana who became a seamstress during the Taliban invasion in 1996-2001. It was interesting to read about life in Afghanistan, but I do feel that the story was not told well. Lemmon is a journalist and though she might write well in article form, she does not do so well when trying her hand at books. I have read books by journalists in the past and they all seem to lack the imagination and description needed to create engaging work. Lemmon skimmed the surface of Kamila’s life in Afghanistan. There was no description of the landscape, buildings or homes, or the personality of the Taliban or their background. Therefore, I did not feel any direct connection to the story or the characters. Lemmon would also repeat information so often that it became frustrating. The dialogue between characters was bland and unimaginative. I also do not understand why if families were struggling to even put food on the table, why would women be buying garments instead of prioritizing the necessities of their families. The garment that they really needed were the burqa’s they were forced to wear. However, the biggest disappointment is the unrealistic good fortune that befell Kamila and her sisters at every turn. For example, when Kamila comes up with the idea to create a seamstress business, she has no idea how to sew, so she asks her big sister to teach her. In one short afternoon Kamila becomes an expert at sewing, embroidery, and creating intricate designs and beading. Kamila being able to create beautiful dresses and pantsuits in hours without any prior knowledge of sewing is highly unbelievable. To make things even more unbelievable, shopkeepers loved her clothing and immediately bought her designs without contemplating the transaction. I would have preferred and would have found it more realistic if shopkeepers turned down the designs once or twice before Kamila found her footing. Hardships and adversity speak volumes and in my opinion can make a story beautiful. The Dressmaker of Khair khana falls flat and that is due to the simple writing and lack of creativity and imagination of Gayle Tzemach Lemmon.