Life is not easy in Afghanistan. It hasn’t been for a long time now. Between the Soviet occupation, the civil war, the Taliban rule, and the U.S. retaliation, everyday life for Afghanis is difficult, to say the least. Especially for the women. Especially during the Taliban years, when they were essentially relegated to their homes, held prisoner in their own houses.
With the men and boys fleeing to Iran and Pakistan for work, and to avoid being force-drafted into the Taliban army, how do these women — some of them highly educated — provide for themselves and their families?
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon focuses on one family — five sisters, but one, Kamila, in particular — who take the bull by the horns and, working within the Taliban’s rules, manage to find a way to thrive under the strict rules and foreboding environment.
On the one hand, what Kamila does in creating a sewing/tailoring business that provides merchandise to local stores and employs local women and girls truly is an inspirational thing. Her innovation and resilience are impressive; she worked within the bounds the Taliban set, and only once did she ever come close to going afoul of the Amr bil-Maroof, the police who enforced the strict morality code. Even then, she was able to talk her way out of things. Her faith and optimism are amazing; if she believed it could be done, she found a way to make it so.
However, it seemed that Lemmon was trying too hard to make the book inspirational. it’s hard to pinpoint, exactly (and it may work for some people), but its overall feeling was: “This is INSPIRATIONAL. Pay attention!” The blurbs on the back don’t help: this book will Change Your Life. (And given Greg Mortensen’s problems, having a big blurb on the cover by him doesn’t really help with the credibility.) Additionally, while it’s a nonfiction book and telling is to be expected, there was way too much telling and not enough showing. She told me that the women were scared by the Taliban; she never showed me. She told me that they worked hard, were stressed, and yet overcame all; she never showed me. The other problem was time: the book covers 13 years, and yet reads as if Kamila achieved all this in a matter of months.
I’m sure there are better books about women under the Taliban, ones that show how resilient and strong they were in spite of everything. And while this is an impressive story, this book is not one of them.