Review by 10×10 Advisory Board Member Terry Hong
This post originally appeared on Bookdragon, which is the the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Program’s book review website. Author Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is also a 10×10 advisory board member. Buy the book using the link below and a portion of the purchase price will benefit 10×10.
I picked up Gayle Tzemach Lemmon‘s already-bestselling debut title with a mission: after reading too many death-and-destruction books one after another, I needed some inspiration to reverse me out of a downward spiral. Our mutual involvement in a fabulous project which puts us on the same web page out there in the virtual world (although we have yet to meet in livetime) meant Dressmaker already came with a hefty endorsement.
“What I found in Kabul was a sisterhood unlike any I had seen before, marked by empathy, laughter, courage, curiosity about the world, and above all a passion for work,” Lemmon writes in her introduction. What began as a double assignment in 2005 for the Financial Times and Harvard Business School led Lemmon eventually to Kamela Sidiqi, one of the many “[b]rave young women [who] complete heroic acts every day, with no one bearing witness.” Lemmon thankfully moves anonymity aside and reveals Kamela’s resilient story to a growing audience all over the world.
Kamela began her life with a major advantage: A “longtime patriot and loyal public servant,” Kamela’s father was “determined that all his children – the nine girls as well as the two boys – enjoy the privilege of school.” When the Taliban took power in 1996 and schools closed overnight and the women shuttered in, the still-teenage Kamela had an uncontainable determination to help her family amidst choking restrictions.
Unwilling to be trapped and idle, Kamela’s education as a teacher gave her both the confidence and the tools to plan a business. She learned to sew in a single day from a patient older sister, quickly set up production in the family living room with her younger siblings, and managed to negotiate regular orders with local merchants. While Afghan men continued to disappear under Taliban control, Kamela grew the family business to include other women desperate to support their families; for younger girls, sewing opportunities even came with lessons in reading, writing, and studying the Quran. Together, these women not only survived, but they truly thrived.
Today, in spite of a post-Taliban, post-9/11 Afghanistan marked by escalating violence, corruption, lockdowns, and threats, Kamela and all the women like her “believe, as they always have, that something better is possible.” By sharing these women’s courageously tenacious stories, Lemmon provides readers convincing proof to believe, as well.