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Book review: La machine à coudre: De l’Afghanistan en guerre aux défilés de haute couture

By Routed Magazine | Issue 24




Karam, Olivia and Nouri, Sami. 2022. La machine à coudre: De l’Afghanistan en guerre aux défilés de haute couture. Paris: Robert Laffont.

ISBN: 978-2-221-25410-3


A sewing machine acts as the running thread through Sami's life. Both his father and grandfather were tailors, in Afghanistan. When Sami's brother was murdered by the Taliban, he and his parents fled to neighbouring Iraq, Sami wrapped around his father's sewing machine as they escaped.


La Machine à Coudre (literally ‘the sewing machine’) is Sami Nouri’s French-language autobiography. It is uplifting and easy to read, accessible to advanced learners of French.


That very sewing machine allowed Sami's father to sustain a living in Iraq, making hundreds of shirts a week. In admiration for his father and the machine itself, Sami asked his father to be taught. Soon, he and his father are sewing together.


But fate separated them. Sami's journey to safety takes him to France as an unaccompanied teenager. Placed in foster care early on, he soon reconnects with his mother and sister. To this day, he still doesn't know what happened to his father.


Fashion remained Sami’s anchor. He seized the first opportunity to show that he could sew. Supported by teachers and foster carers, he is admitted to fashion schools, welcomed by Parisian elitist fashion institutions, and eventually launches his own brand.


Those interested in migration will recognise some of the typical patterns seen in the experience of those fleeing Afghanistan, with Sami first settling into a neighbouring country before being smuggled into Western Europe. They will find it interesting to read about his experience of integrating into French society. Readers will regret, but sympathise with, his choice to remain evasive about his life in Afghanistan, his escape, and his family.


Sami admits being candid. It transpires in his writing. Some bold statements about some of his carers might surprise, and may embarrass, the reader. His tendency to objectify women, whom he uniformly and repeatedly describes as ‘beautiful’, is disappointing. Will the Parisian fashion industry challenge that attitude? One lives in hope…



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