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The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe

3.68  ·  Rating Details  ·  11,077 Ratings  ·  1,877 Reviews
The life Kamila Sidiqi had known changed overnight when the Taliban seized control of the city of Kabul. After receiving a teaching degree during the civil war—a rare achievement for any Afghan woman—Kamila was subsequently banned from school and confined to her home. When her father and brother were forced to flee the city, Kamila became the sole breadwinner for her five ...more
Hardcover, 258 pages
Published March 15th 2011 by Harper
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Dana I really liked seeing the war in Afghanistan from a different perspective. Too often war is show from the military or political standpoint and women…moreI really liked seeing the war in Afghanistan from a different perspective. Too often war is show from the military or political standpoint and women are portrayed as victims and bystanders. Here is a portrait of a woman (and the other women in her family) who persevered in spite of the circumstances. She did not fight the culture but worked within it to make the best of the situation and in the process saved her family as well as many families around her. I gave this 5 stars for the story - a woman who loved her country and her family and displayed great courage to make the best of a bad situation.(less)
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Community Reviews

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Apr 18, 2011 Linda rated it did not like it
I felt this book, although well-intended, was trite, shallow and implausible. The main character, Kamila, takes it upon herself to start a home-based business designing and sewing custom dresses for women in Kabul during the time of a civil war when the Taliban essentially ruled Kabul and surrounding areas. I simply do not find it feasible that women living under the Taliban would need such garments when it was a struggle to even get food on the table for their families. I would not even recomme ...more
Will Byrnes
Mar 30, 2013 Will Byrnes rated it liked it
Gale Tzemach Lemmon offers us a profile in courage about a young woman who defied the daunting odds in Taliban-controlled Kabul to established a business that offered employment, income and hope to her family and neighbors, at a time when all three were in very short supply.

One of the many awful aspects of the extreme form of Islam practiced by the Afghan Taliban is their complete subjugation of women. Women are not allowed to leave their homes unless accompanied by a male relative. They are not
Aug 23, 2011 Sarah rated it it was ok
A flawed book with the best of intentions

The Taliban arrived in Kabul the day Kamila Sidiqi received her teaching certificate. Shortly thereafter, the teenager became the unofficial head of a large household of younger siblings (mostly female) after her parents and teenage brother fled to safety in the countryside and Pakistan, respectively. The young women quickly adapted to the restrictions imposed by the Taliban on movements (leaving the house only at certain times of day, always accompanied
Jul 28, 2014 Jenni rated it it was ok
I was given this book as required reading at University of Florida, as a part of our "common reading" program where every Freshman receives the same book so that we share a common "intellectual experience". Let me say two things:

1) There was nothing intellectual whatsoever going on with this book.

2) Thank GOD I didn't pay for it.

This book was well intended and cut a good message: sympathize with and appreciate the women who stay behind to make things work while the men are at war.

The writing it
So after spending hours searching for a free copy of this online, eventually having to pay 10 bucks to buy the e-book, and reading this in somewhat of a hurry for college -- turns out I didn't have to read it after all.

Nice. Going. Me.

This book really wasn't my cup of tea. And don't get me wrong; it's definitely not because of the subject matter. A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner are two of my most favourite books ever and they were also set around the same period of time and place.


On completion: It didn't take me very long to read this book, that is simply because I found it very interesting. In fact it won over browsing GR! When a book doesn't draw me, I usually find something else to do; I find all sorts of other things that have to be done. I do this unconsciously. This book I read in three days!

What I liked about the book was that it provided a chance to experience life in Kabul under the Muzahideen, the Taliban and the bombing of Kabul after al Quaeda's
Jul 11, 2016 Melinda rated it really liked it
Shelves: on-my-ipod
Wow. Just finished this book and am still processing the tale, the truths, the atrocities and their implications. A true story of a family of (mostly) women, and the changes they faced when the Taliban came into power in Afghanistan.

This story is extremely powerful and eye-opening the reader a glimpse into life for women in this turbulent and brutal time. A government change that forced women into near house-arrest, took away personal liberties and education, and the ability to earn a
Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day)
The author, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, was an MBA student at Harvard Business School, when she yearned to do some research in a subject that mattered but which no one cared for much. That brought her to the topic of women entrepreneurship in war-torn Rwanda, and then to Afghanistan. Her initial search efforts in Kabul raised no potential candidates. It was after a long hunt that she found the protagonist of this biography and this book, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana is her attempt to tell the story o ...more
Apr 13, 2013 Megan rated it it was ok
Recommended to Megan by: Jamie Cook, Tanya Rogers
Shelves: bookgroup
My reaction to this book was, "I should feel an emotional connection to these women and their situation, but I feel nothing." I was trying to figure out if that was my fault or the fault of the author.

This book is the true story of women in Kabul during the Taliban terror. Their lives were drastically changed as they were forced from their jobs, their schooling, and the streets, to live lives of house arrest. One woman risks a lot--her own life, her family's safety, to put together a dressmaking
Apr 27, 2011 Janet rated it it was ok
Read this in one sitting under the impression it was a work of non-fiction revealing little known truths of a burgeoning cottage industry and its subsequent hardships under Taliban rule. At the conclusion of the book there's even a photo of the protagonist posing with Condoleeza Rice. That's why I was mightily confused to read the publisher's boilerplate disclaimer that all similarities to those either living or dead was completely unintentional as this was a creation of the author's imagination ...more
Aug 06, 2015 Karen rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone
I read this book overnight...and I don't usually do that since I love to sleep. This book drew me in right at the moment Gayle Lemmon landed in the airport and went into the bathroom to change into black all over and cover her hair and face....I thought I knew Middle East enough already, until I read this book. The author risked her own life traveling all the way to Kabul, to report a story about a woman who was strong and brave who sacrificed her safety to help out her family and other women in ...more
Mrs. Nicole
Oct 11, 2011 Mrs. Nicole rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2011
Amazingly powerful biography of Kamila Sidiqi, a young educated Afghan women, as told from the perspective of American journalist Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. This non-fiction work describes Kamila's struggle to adapt to the Taliban after taking control of Kabul, the city where she spent her entire life living. As the Taliban enact new rules in regards to the education and clothing styles of women, the women of Kabul are forced to adapt or be killed. Kamila's father, mother, and two older brothers leav ...more
Apr 05, 2011 JoAnn/QuAppelle rated it it was ok
I was not thrilled with was strangely unsatisfying. I have seen it referred to as a fictional biography, which I think is odd. My library had it in biography and others had it in fiction. Who knows?

I thought the writing was pretty bad. Disconnected, lots of inconsistencies, poor explanations of the facts. I wonder who edited this? The author is a journalist and I do not think any newspaper editor would have approved of the "product". It sure did not live up to some of the promotiona
Apr 06, 2011 Heather rated it liked it
What would you do if you were banned from public places, including schools? Could you spend years hiding at home while your country is at war? This happens to Kamila Sadiqi, a teenager in Afghanistan when the Taliban takes control. She had studied to become a teacher, even earning a prestigious teaching certificate after completing a two-year program. She had planned to go to a coed university for two more years to receive her bachelor’s degree, and hoped to become a professor, perhaps even teac ...more
A serious disappointment after having wanted to read this for almost 2 years. The book has a YA feel -- everything is simple. The sentence structure is simple, the story arch (what do you call it with non-fiction books?) is simple, the language is simple, and many stories within the arch feel like they must have been pared down or combined or something. The entirety of the book is "She did this. They did that. They went here. She said this. Her sister said that." You never feel you get to KNOW a ...more
Eric Wright
Jun 24, 2012 Eric Wright rated it it was amazing
I rarely read a book that creates such an impression that I continue to carry with me the vivid pictures for months, years. This book is one such and it is true. It is an absolutely inspiring story of human triumph against difficulties that leave me with my jaw hanging open. Kamila Sidiqi's life was changed overnight when the Taliban took over Afghanistan. Her parents and a brother had to flee. She was left as the sole breadwinner for her four sisters and one young brother. What could she do, co ...more
Dec 16, 2011 Suze rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone!
Reading a book like this makes me sit back and think about how lucky women are in this country. We are free to pursue our dreams. We can be whoever we want to be. We are even encouraged to educate ourselves to achieve success and enlighten our minds.

In Afghanistan, that is most certainly not the case, at least not when this story takes place. There is no limit to the admiration I feel for the women who have accomplished so much while being discouraged, threatened and jailed. Such courage I canno
Mar 08, 2013 Kathryn rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
What a remarkable woman Kamila Sidiqi is. Her brother's quote at the end the story says it all:

"I always hoped that someone would come from a foreign country and tell my sister's story. She was so brave at such a difficult time, and she did so much for all of us - not just my own family but so many other families in Khair Khana and around Kabul. And she is the reason that all of us got educated. I wanted you to know how glad I am that her story will finally be told."
Jul 04, 2015 Nancy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you are interested in people of other cultures, and the struggles they have to go through, you will love this book. A woman journalist went to Afghanistan to find woman, who were doing work from their homes. Kamila was a young woman, from a family of eleven children. Her education was disrupted by the Tailban's taking power. She decided to learn sewing from her older sister, in order to make money for her families survival. Kamila was able to earn money for her own family, and then hired othe ...more
Tara Jo
Jun 04, 2015 Tara Jo rated it really liked it
Very good book explaining the challenges that were faced by women in Afghanistan when they came under Taliban rule. It's quite an odd concept for me, being an American female who has only ever known rights and privileges and freedom....I cannot imagine not being able to go where I want to go without have a male (husband/family member) to travel with me. I cannot imagine being beaten for raising my shirt sleeve to scratch an itch because that is seen as obscene...or having to wear a chadri (burqa ...more
Jennifer Kim
Aug 02, 2014 Jennifer Kim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am writing about this book not because I loved it (I liked it enough, but I loved the topic), but because it's an important book. Just like Imperial life in Emerald City, this book should be read by as many people as possible (should be required reading in the diplomatic corps).

Kamila Sidiqi comes from a family of eleven children. She is the third oldest, with an older sister and brother. Having blessed with an educated father who believed in education for all his children, she had big dreams.
More of a long report than a full book.

There is no doubt that Kamilla Sidiqi is an amazing woman who courageously supported her family as well as many other members of the community during the Taliban regime. However, the book lacks depth and feels more like an extended report than the characters telling their story from their hearts. The author has written many articles for prestigious publications in the US, but that is how this book read, rather than as a full length biography.

Having said tha
Jun 24, 2011 Jody rated it liked it
This is the story of Kamila Sidiqi, a new college graduate when the Taliban took power in Afghanistan and banned women from all arenas of public life. Unable to work outside the home, and after her father and brother are forced to flee Kabul, Kamila organizes her large family into a dressmaking business. The business flourishes, and provides support for Kamila's family as well as for many young women whom she employs. Kamila's story is impressive. Her goal to help other Afghani women never waver ...more
Nancy Kennedy
Feb 03, 2012 Nancy Kennedy rated it it was amazing
We have come to view the women of Afghanistan as oppressed victims of the Taliban -- which they are -- but they are not just that, writes Gayle Tzemach Lemmon. They are heroes who under the harshest of circumstances have carved out a niche for themselves as entrepreneurs and activists. They have no choice, if they and their families are going to survive.

Until I read this story of Kamela, a young woman struggling to stay alive in Taliban-occupied Kabul, I had no idea of what that oppression meant
Apr 21, 2013 Lisa rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
In the 1990's the women of Afghanistan were experiencing the freedom to pursue an education and a career until the Taliban seized control of Kabul. The Muslim extremists required women to stay home, and not to hold a job or attend school. If a woman had to leave her home, she had to be covered completely and be accompanied by a male relative. Any woman out of her home not complying with this demand would be beaten or imprisoned.

This is a photo taken in Khair Khana, so you see what covered means:
Lemmon is a journalist / MBA student intrigued by female entrepreneurship in war zones. In Afghanistan she learned about Kamila Sidiqi, who had become a dressmaker when the Taliban came to Kabul and demanded that women stop working, drop out of school, stay indoors, and stay veiled. The economy of the city shut down. Kamila, the oldest female at home, determined to find a way to support her family while obeying Taliban rules, so began a dressmaking business. The business also evolved into a tail ...more
Michael Gerald
Nov 16, 2013 Michael Gerald rated it really liked it
Everyone loves a great story with a happy ending. I guess.

I was halfway through this book when super typhoon Yolanda smashed the Visayas with record-breaking winds that left a trail of death and destruction in its wake. So finally finishing this book took longer because I had to do my part in helping the victims. Helping people in need was a balm that soothed a sad soul, and so was finishing this book.

It is the inspiring story of a woman who lived in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan who refused to just
Uplifting and inspirational, this is the story of Kamila Sidiqi, a young Afghan woman, who became the sole support of her family during the five years of the occupation of Afghanistan by Taliban forces. When her father and brother were forced to flee Kabul, the family faced starvation. An intelligent, university educated young woman, Kamila found herself suddenly confined to her home, forced to dress according to strict Taliban specifications, and not allowed to even speak with a man. But with h ...more
I just could not get interested in this book or connect with the characters, but appreciate the initiative of the Afghanistan women who began a sewing business in their home to survive the Taliban rule. This non-fiction work came across as emotionless for me, and I am still confused as to who was purchasing all these clothes since everyone was so poor. (I began skimming about mid-way so I may have missed something)

Perhaps my questions will be answered as the book is discussed next month at my lo

Probably should have given it a pass when the front cover had an endorsement by that Three Cups of Tea shyster.

I thought the book was pretty shallow. It didn't manage to situate the Sidiqi family in a historical/social context. Honestly, the whole twentieth century history of Afghanistan was summed up in some paragraph describing how hemlines have changed. Normally, in a narrative non-fiction book, you'd describe the premature birth of twins and toss in some UN stats about maternal health and i
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2016 Reading Chal...: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana 1 13 Feb 12, 2015 05:00PM  
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Classic Readers : Kamila and Her Sisters 1 7 Sep 09, 2013 02:06PM  
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“Brave young women complete heroic acts everyday, with no one bearing witness. This was a chance to even the ledger, to share one small story the made the difference between starvation and survival for the families whose lives it changed. I wanted to pull the curtain back for readers on a place foreigners know more for its rocket attacks and roadside bombs than its countless quiet feats of courage. And to introduce them to the young women like Kamila Sidiqi who will go on. No matter what.” 4 likes
“wanted to know what war was like for those who had been left behind: the women who managed to keep going even as their world fell apart.” 1 likes
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