The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Summary: Like many memoirs written since the fall of the Taliban, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana tells the story of an Afghanistani woman who disobeyed the strict regime and made a way for herself and the women of her village. In this case, Kamila sets up a small dressmaking factory in the midst of Taliban-controlled Kabul so that she can provide for her family. Selling through the local tailors, the women’s business thrives. As word spreads among the women’s community, young girls flood to Kamila’s house to beg for work. Determined to help all of them in any way that she can she decides to open a school where she will instruct the girl’s in the basics of tailoring so that they will be able to make their own money. Taking the education a step further, Kamila begins working with the UN to education women about business and the Qu’ran. When the Taliban are overthrown, Kamila works with the new aid agencies to re-establish peace in Afghanistan.
Bechdel Test?: Absolutely passes. The women talk amongst themselves about everything from money, to family, to politics.
Strangest Part?: Hearing about the Titanic fever was hilarious. Apparently when VHS tapes of Titanic hit Afghanistan, men began cutting their hair in “the Leo” and the Taliban had to outlaw the haircut. Any men caught with the floppy hair were taken to the barber for a buzz cut.
I’m not loving it. Maybe it’s because I’m in a class on Afghanistan right now (HIST 391: Afghanistan and Central Asia) but this book feels like a million others only less interesting. There has been a major uptick in books about Afghanistan since 9/11 and this is one in the series. It looks only about the surface-level problems in Afghanistan, like women’s education and empowerment. While I agree these things are absolutely essential to nation building, so are roads, access to clean water and basic medicine!