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Senior Correspondent

Inspiration in the Time of Repression

Inspiration in the Time of Repression

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon (HarperCollins Publishers

This inspiring story transports the reader to Afghanistan for a recounting of the terrible repressive time when the Taliban was in charge, depriving women of any rights. Females, even educated ones, were banned from working in public, attending school, leaving their homes without a male escort, or revealing any part of their bodies.

Author Gayle Tzemach became interested in exploring how women living under such circumstances could not only exist, but generate a living. A longtime ABC news correspondent, Tzemach left the network to pursue an MBA at Harvard. Her chief interest is seeking out women who become entrepreneurs despite adversity.

In Kamila Sidiqi’s family, as in many others, the father and older brother left for a safer part of the country because their political beliefs put them in danger. Kamila, second oldest in a family of nine daughters, was desperate for a way to support family members left in Kabul.

Though not a seamstress, she originated the idea of sewing clothing to sell to local shops. A younger brother was her only means of leaving the house to make the initial contacts, as unescorted women were prime targets of the Taliban.

Starting with a handful of relatives and neighbors and limited equipment, she built a thriving business with over 100 seamstresses, all working in the Sidiqi house out of sight of the Taliban. For me the most exciting part of the book was the introduction, describing author Tzemach’s first arrival at Kabul airport, where she changed in the restroom from jeans and boots into loose-fitting pants, scarves and veil. She feels the journalist’s rush of adrenaline from being onto a good story. Once the business is established, however, the story proceeds in rather pedestrian fashion. I would have liked more suspenseful highs and lows. The writing is straightforward and journalistic. No literary flourishes here.

The consistent pace of the story might be because author Tzemach went to Afghanistan to gather facts well after the action took place. She strives for detail and authenticity, but the vignettes that make up the book have lapses in time and even characters that made me think I had missed something along the way. Some readers may be bothered by the use of direct quotes, since the author could not have been present to hear actual conversations. For those of us who have not been to the Middle East, this book would have been better with some background on the Afghan political and cultural situation.

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