The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Group 1 – June 2018
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana follows the lives of Kamila Sidiqi and her family during the years of Taliban occupation of Kabul in the 1990s. With women banned from working and required to remain at home, through sheer tenacity and ingenuity Kamila finds a way of supporting her family – four younger sisters, two brothers and her parents by setting up a dressmaking business. This provides not only an income but also provides the sisters and young women in the community with new skills and a purpose to daily life despite the restrictions, dangers and tensions of daily life.
From the start of the discussion those present said they had not enjoyed the book. There was very little sense of the smells and noise of the city, the danger, violence and tensions when out on the street. The group discussed the impact on women being banned from working in any capacity, being restricted to their homes unless accompanied by a mahram (male relation) and having to wear the chadri (burqa). In particular we discussed how the situation provided Kamila with the impetus and a way of coping, by setting up a business that would not only support her family but also the local community. This led to further discussion on the qualities and influences that enabled Kamila to achieve this and to look at her achievements in relationship to other unique people. The group felt that the characters and qualities of other members of the Sidiqi family and in particular Dr Maryam could have been explored in more depth. It was felt that present day NGOs had a much better understanding of the country’s needs than when the book was written and that potentially the combination of NGOs and locally trained Afghanis would be the best way of helping to develop Afghanistan. The political situation, make up of the different ethnic groups and lack of education for all women was also discussed.
It was felt the story of Kamila, her family and the dressmaking business did not justify being told in book form; was badly written and edited and thin on content and could not be recommended as a good read.