The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

dressmakerThe author was a former journalist in Washington D.C. covering presidential campaigns. She left her job in 2005 to go to grad school. She wanted to do international development research and in that vein was going to interview women in war zones to see how they survived and managed to support themselves, rebuild their economy and maintain hope for the future. I thought her book was supposed to represent that research. In actuality, she really only wrote deeply about one woman who worked in a war zone, Kamila Sidiqi, and really wrote only about one war zone, Kabul. I was disappointed with the scope and breadth of the book since I had wanted to learn about other women, as well, from other beleaguered countries that were embattled by war, other women who succeeded against all odds as well, as the introduction had suggested would be the main thrust of the book. For Lemmon, the main point of her book seems to be Sediqi’s “Wonder Woman” approach to survival, Allah will protect her, her faith will prevail. It seemed a bit like a fairytale to present the story that way since many people were brutally and sadistically punished, tortured, and murdered, who also had deep and abiding faith in their religion, and also believed in the teachings of the Koran and prayed, perhaps more than Sidiqi did. Her reliance on faith was a bit over the top, made more for an entertaining television movie, rather than a documentary or reality TV. In addition, her Polyanna approach to survival, stressing her belief that her faith would protect her, endangering her friends and relatives as well, was foolhardy at best, even though it succeeded, and that aspect of her behavior would have been better served it it had been condemned at the same time her courage was praised. The author chose to present and emphasize certain aspects of personality and faith over an innate intellectual ability to achieve.
In the book, Lemmon refers to Kamila’s parents alternately as her mother and father and as Mr. or Mrs. Sidiqi, so sometimes I was unsure of the people she was presenting. She does not do to a great job of summing up and bringing the situation in Kabul into the current day, either. It stops in 2011, since that is when the book was published and it needs an addendum to bring it up to date today. She does try to inform the reader of how the characters in the book fared as years passed, but that was of little concern to me since they were never really fully developed. Therefore, I had little interest in the ancillary characters and barely remembered much about any of them.
A very brief history of Afghanistan was provided by the author, and thus it seems incidental to the story. In summary, after the war with Russia, the Mujahedeen assumed control. The population of women in Kabul, Afghanistan, was greater than that of the men. After 1996, under the Taliban, without the ability to move about freely, if they had no male in the household, women had no access to employment, no way to shop, and no way to feed or protect their families. Those who enforced the Taliban rules were young, uneducated and cruel, victims of having knowledge that was informed only by the dogma taught by the fanatics that twisted their minds. Education and freedom of movement may have been forbidden for women, but music was forbidden for all, laughter was forbidden and so were all forms of entertainment, even chess. Fear lived in the streets of Kabul and behind closed doors and garden walls. All oppressed by the Taliban, prayed for an end to their brutal regime.
The story is about Kamila Sidiqi. In 1996, she lived in Kabul when the Taliban took over the city. Because their lives were in danger, her parents and brother left Afghanistan when the Taliban took over the city. Suddenly, she was responsible for the care and safety of the remaining siblings at home, five sisters and a brother. Under the Taliban, she was a prisoner in her own home. She had to figure out a way to support the household. Fortunately, she had a younger brother who at 13 years old, qualified as a male chaperone. Women could not leave the home without a chaperone any longer, and they were forced to be dressed in a chadri, a garment that covered their entire body except for their eyes which were visible through a narrow slit of netted material. Kamila was resourceful and brave and with her older sister’s help, she learned to sew and was able to build up a clandestine dressmaking business in her home. It not only supported her family but she was able to educate other women in the neighborhood, teaching them the trade and then employing them. She held out the constant hope that the conflict would soon end and Taliban control led by followers of the most violent form of Sharia Law, would be over as well.
The author did an admirable job of showing the brutality of the Taliban, the death and destruction they left in their wake, the lack of freedom for the women in Kabul, the general atmosphere of fear that prevailed for all, and the courage and creativity of the women who had to provide for their families with little resources available to them, especially, of course, Kamila Sidiqi.
The timeline was confusing because the author began with her own story, in 2005, and then the storyline moved back and forth as she wrote it. It seemed as if she was telling the story as if it was taking place in her time, in the middle of the first decade of 2000, when it actually began when the Taliban took over in 1996, when Sediqi, then only 19 years old, became the head of her household. She opened her dressmaking school in 1997. The high point of the book seemed to be Kamila’s invitation from Condaleeza Rice, to speak in America, in 2005. We learn that after 9/11, in 2001, when George W. Bush was President, the Taliban was dealt heavy losses and no longer had total control in major areas of Afghanistan. Women were granted more freedom. At that time, Kamila’s career began to flourish as she created more opportunities for her fellow Afghanis. She became even more of an entrepreneur, a world famous figure, and was offered many lucrative positions but she chose to stay in Kabul to help rebuild the economy, improve education and the civil rights for fellow Afghanis. She was in favor of America’s intervention and hoped it would bring about international cooperation to help Afghanistan, That was then, in 2005, and today, it would seem to not have worked out very well as the Taliban may be resurging once again as are other fanatic Islamic groups that believe in the practice of 7th century Islam.
The story, although true, left me wanting more. There are few today who are not aware of the brutality and inequity of Sharia Law, the Taliban, Isis, Al Qaeda, and all fanatic elements of Islam that are on the rise and on the march. I wanted to find out more about the people who were able to maintain their faith in spite of these radicals who bastardized it, who were able to maintain respect, moving into the future without inspiring fear and hate. This book did not really explore “women” in war zones or their success, with the exception of this one woman. She seemed to present the Taliban as fools, almost as if had been fairly simple for Kamila to outsmart them. Also, I wasn’t quite sure why Najeeb, her brother, told her story. Why didn’t this very resourceful Kamila tell her own story? There were many unanswered questions left hanging.

Advertisements

About omasvoice

Who am I? I am you. I am everyone out there who loves to read and discuss and voice an opinion!
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Books for Adults, Non-Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s