One of the rare memoirs of Afghanistan to have been written by an Afghan, A Fort of Nine Towers reveals the richness and suffering of life in a country whose history has become deeply entwined with our own. For the young Qais Akbar Omar, Kabul was a city of gardens where he flew kites from his grandfather’s roof with his cousin Wakeel while their parents, uncles, and aunts drank tea around a cloth spread in the grass. It was a time of telling stories, reciting poetry, selling carpets, and arranging marriages.Then civil war exploded and their neighborhood found itself on the front line of a conflict that grew more savage by the day. With rockets falling around them, Omar’s family ﬂed, leaving behind everything they owned to take shelter in an old fort—only a few miles distant and yet a world away from the gunfire. As the violence escalated, Omar’s father decided he must take his children out of the country to safety. On their perilous journey, they camped in caves behind the colossal Buddha statues in Bamyan, and took refuge with nomad cousins, herding their camels and sheep. While his father desperately sought smugglers to take them over the border, Omar grew up on the road, and met a deaf-mute carpet weaver who would show him his life’s purpose. Later, as the Mujahedin war devolved into Taliban madness, Omar learned about quiet resistance. He survived a brutal and arbitrary imprisonment, and, at eighteen, opened a secret carpet factory to provide work for neighborhood girls, who were forbidden to go to school or even to leave their homes. As they tied knots at their looms, Omar’s parents taught them literature and science. In this stunning coming-of-age memoir, Omar recounts terrifyingly narrow escapes and absurdist adventures, as well as moments of intense joy and beauty. Inﬂected with folktales, steeped in poetry, A Fort of Nine Towers is a life-affirming triumph.
“I know of no other book in which the complex realities of life—and death—in contemporary Afghanistan are so starkly and intimately portrayed. This brave memoir, rich in tough humor and insight, recounts an insider’s view into both the suffering and the integrity of an uncompromisingly proud and courageous people. Above all, it is a powerful reminder of the extraordinary tenacity of a culture that foreigners have repeatedly and fatally misjudged.”—Jason Elliot, author of An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan“This is a book for those who love Afghanistan, for those who want to understand it, or simply for those who value deeply the best in the human spirit. It is a tale that deserves to rank with The Kite Runner.”—Ronal d E. Neumann, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and president of the American Academy of Diplomacy“From squatting inside a cave in the head of a Bamyan Buddha to escaping torture at the teeth of a dog and his master, Qais Akbar Omar’s tale of one family’s journey during the Afghan civil war is inscriptional: its images carve themselves into the reader’s mind. Unlike most accounts of life in exile, A Fort of Nine Towers never leaves Afghanistan. This book is essential reading for anyone eager to learn what more than three decades of war have cost the Afghan people.”—Eliza Griswold, author of the New York Times bestseller The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam“At a time when Afghanistan threatens to recede into a bloody and debased footnote, Qais Akbar Omar reminds us of the honor and courage of his people. A remarkable feat of memory and imagination.”—Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, author of The Watch and The Storyteller of Marrakesh “In this stark, unflinching memoir, Qais Akbar Omar illuminates the beauty and tragedy of a country pushed to the brink by war. A Fort of Nine Towers gives voice to the unbreakable spirit of the Afghan people.”—G. Willow Wilson, author of Alif the Unseen“As lyrical as it is haunting, this mesmerizing, not-to-be-missed debut memoir is also a loving evocation of a misunderstood land and people . . . A gorgeously rich tapestry of an amazing life and culture.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)“Omar’s prose is deliciously forthright, extravagant, and somewhere mischievous, and very Afghan in its sense of long-suffering endurance and also reconciliation.”—Publishers Weekly
Qais Akbar Omar (whose first name is pronounced “Kice”) manages his family’s carpet business in Kabul and writes books. In 2007, he was a visiting scholar at the University of Colorado. He has studied business at Brandeis University and is currently pursuing an MFA in creative writing at Boston University. Omar has lectured on Afghan carpets in Afghanistan, Europe, and the United States. He is the coauthor, with Stephen Landrigan, of Shakespeare in Kabul.