Book Review: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana

Kamila Jan of Kabul, Afghanistan was a young woman besieged with responsibilities beyond her years.  In her late teens, her hometown of Kabul was taken over by the Taliban.  Within a couple of weeks, Kamila and all of the women in Kabul went from a relatively liberal mode of dress to having to wear a chadri when they were in public.  A chadri is a garment that covers a woman completely from head to foot with only a small window with a veil covering their eyes so they could see…a little bit.

No matter how hot it became, the chadri was necessary to wear.  The consequence was being beaten with wooden batons, or even worse, being jailed indefinitely with a hope that one’s family was rich enough to bail you out through bribes.

Kamila Jan’s story shares with the reader how woman of Kabul were able to get through the repressive Taliban years while somehow managing the risks.  It is also a story of enterprise and business.  This story shows how women began businesses in their homes to sustain themselves and their families.  The one important note that I left out is that the Taliban government banned women from working publicly (outside of their homes).  Women were also not allowed to go to school and if they were enrolled when the Taliban came to power, they had to stop attending, or face unthinkable consequences.

Simply walking in the streets without a chadri on and wearing a large body covering scarf was still a punishable offense.  Women who did not have the time, or money, to purchase a chadri within the couple of weeks that the new ruling went into effect became targets for the Talib soldiers who patrolled the street of Kabul.  A woman could even be detained if the soldiers were so moved.

Women coming together, laughing and playing music was also banned.  As were most forms of entertainment.  Can you imagine not being able to play music, board games, or have loud fun in you own home?  How about not being able to speak with the butcher, if he was male, in order to place your order?  That’s right.  If a woman was caught speaking to a male that was not in her family, that was against the law!  A woman had to have a mahram (male escort that was a family member) with her at all times.  This was considered proper decorum for a good Muslim woman during the Taliban years.

These are a few of the most glaring and ridiculously austere restrictions the Taliban government imposed upon Afghanistan during its 5-year reign.  The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Lemmon is a challenging read as it draws the reader’s emotions close to the surface because of the injustices experienced by Kamila Jan and her family.  However, the strength of Kamila and her family is jewel-bright and will inspire you long after the final word is read.

5 Blogairy Notebooks


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