Review: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

In 2005, the journalist Gayle Tzemach Lemmon touches down in Afghanistan for the first time. A seasoned traveler, she is nonetheless unprepared for the dangers that face a Western woman moving about alone in a country decimated by war, political upheaval, and, of course, centuries-old marginalisation of women. Lemmon noses about looking for stories of women’s survival in the years of Taliban rule, when most men were sent away to fight and the women were not allowed to go out without a male relative.

She meets Kamila, a young woman who’s created a successful tailoring business as a way to support herself and her five sisters during those terrifying years. Working with fortitude, the women secure orders and meet deadlines. Not only do they survive, they thrive. As their business grows, they open a school for other young women who, in turn, create their own home industries.

The tireless Kamila goes on to work for aid agencies and even attends conferences in Washington.  She continues to create opportunities for women in her country.  None of this may have happened, however, without those repressive political circumstances—a point Lemmon misses.

Also, her choice to report the story through the imagined conversations of the sisters is a mistake. Not only does it limit her perspective as a journalist, the artificial reconstruction of events rings false, giving the women unrealistic insight into the past and stripping this worthy story of its inherent drama.

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana     

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon     

Hachette Australia     

Review first published in The Courier-Mail in March 2011.


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