I’m doing something a little different with my nonfiction lists this year. 50 of the books I read in 2011 were nonfiction; about a third of them were memoirs and a third were specifically related to feminism. I decided to split my “best of” lists accordingly. These are my five favorite general nonfiction books listed in alphabetical order by title:
Columbine by Dave Cullen (2009)
You think you know why Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on their killing spree at Columbine High School like they did, and you think you know what happened during the subsequent investigation…but you don’t! The media quickly jumped to conclusions, and that’s been the official story ever since. Cullen’s meticulous research shows that nearly everything that was fed to the public was a lie.
The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon (2011)
After the Taliban took over Kabul, women were forced to stay home and couldn’t work. In order to support her siblings, a determined young woman named Kamila Sidiqi started her own dressmaking business from home and was eventually able to help local women support themselves as well. Amazing story. Read my review here.
Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario (2006)
Sonia Nazario recreates the journey of an undocumented immigrant who made the dangerous journey from Honduras to the United States in search of his mother. It’s an incredible look at what many undocumented immigrants suffer through for a chance at a better life. Based on Nazario’s Pulitzer-winning newspaper series. Read my review here.
I’m giving away several books throughout March in honor of Women’s History Month. Win a copy of this book, courtesy of Harper Books! Read on for more information.
The plight of women in Afgnanistan became international news fodder in the weeks following the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Suddenly, there they were on everyone’s television screens: oppressed women forced to cover themselves from head to toe under the fundamentalist Taliban regime. They had no power to make any kind of decisions, were not allowed to work or go to school, and were subject to the cruel whims of the men around them.
At least, that’s the mainstream media narrative.
Yes, it is true that once the Taliban took control–several years before 9/11, might I add–men and women were forced to live under fundamentalist laws. Women were impacted the hardest: almost overnight, they were forced to radically alter their clothing, put their educations on hold, and stay at home. The only time they were allowed out in public was when they were being escorted by a male relative (and that, too, could prove perilous). Since they were not allowed to work outside the home–and since previous wars had turned many women into widows–women took the brunt of the economic fallout.
What the mainstream media narrative lacked (as always) was nuance; in their reports on the “War on Terror,” rarely did the media portray any type of agency among the people of Afghanistan. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana serves to rectify some of that.
Kamela Sediqi was a young woman living in Kabul with her parents, two brothers, and five sisters when the Taliban took over. Her father was a firm believer in education, and Kamela and her older sister had degrees. Of course, once sharia law was instituted, the women were forced to stay home. Not only did it drive the girls stir crazy, but it left them all in a precarious financial state.
Due to her father’s work with the previous governing body, Kamela’s parents fled Kabul to escape possible repercussions. Her brother soon fled as well. Though everyone urged the father to get the girls out of Kabul, he refused because of the dangers it posed; the girls would be too vulnerable to attacks and kidnappings. It was decided that the girls would stay at the Kabul home, with Kamela in charge.
Knowing the impossibility of working in public, Kamela began to brainstorm possible businesses that she could run from their home. She decided that sewing would bring in the steadiest income, but she had one problem: she didn’t know how to sew, and neither did her younger sisters. Luckily, her older sister, Malekheh, was an expert tailor who had learned the skill from their mother, and her four younger sisters quickly learned the skill under her tutelage.
With Kamela’s resourcefulness, the girls’ business quickly flourished; they soon realized that they would have to hire other women to help keep up with all of the orders they were received. Kamela was glad that she would be able to help a few other women earn a living, but was still troubled by the plight of the majority of women living under Taliban rule. She came up with an idea to open a school so that they’d be able to train women to develop a skill that would help them earn a living. Though it was extremely dangerous since women were not supposed to work outside the home, Kamela was determined to help as many people as possible.