A Fort of Nine Towers

An Afghan Family Story

Qais Akbar Omar

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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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. 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.

A Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book of 2013
A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction Book of 2013

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Book Excerpts

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In the Time Before
In the time before the fighting, before the rockets, before the warlords and their false promises, before the sudden disappearance of so many people we knew to graves or foreign lands, before the Taliban and their madness, before the smell of death hung daily in the air and the ground was soaked in blood, we lived well.
*   *   *
We have no photos. It was too dangerous to keep them during the time of the Taliban, so we destroyed them. But the images of our lives before all hope fled Afghanistan remain sharp and clear.

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Reviews

Praise for A Fort of Nine Towers

“Mind-boggling . . . a riveting story of war as seen through a child’s eyes and summoned from an adult’s memory.”
The New York Times Book Review

“If you read only one book this summer, make it this one. It’s an astonishing tale of religious barbarians and human hope, of what happened to Kabul before and after the Taliban came to power.”
—Jeanette Winterson, O Magazine

“Beautifully written, with the pacing and suspense of a novel ... his richly detailed account of growing up in Afghanistan under the warlords and then the Taliban is deeply fulfilling, remarkable not least because he lived to tell the tale.”
The Washington Post

“A poetic, funny and terrifying memoir.”
The Economist


“Lucid, moving . . . a classic autobiography of universal resonance.”
Newsday

A Fort of Nine Towers captures a time and a place unknown to most Americans . . . graphic, certainly, but it’s also sweet and funny and inspiring.”
The Boston Globe

“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, 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

“An extraordinary memoir that portrays [Omar’s] coming of age during a time of madness. This story of his middle-class family’s struggle to survive during a decade of civil war and Taliban rule is even more haunting than The Kite Runner, because it’s not fiction.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Qais’s narrative cuts through hardened pro- or anti-war biases to record both the pain and pride that remain the hallmark of so many Afghans.”
The Daily Beast

“A beautifully written memoir about growing up in Afghanistan during the time of the civil wars, and the Taliban—one of the few books written about Afghanistan by an Afghan.”
The Denver Post

“Remarkable . . . a universal story of survival and the power of family.”
The Toronto Star

“Omar’s beautifully written book is an affecting account of survival in the midst of brutality and fear, and a testament to the importance of family and friendships in a place where neighbours turned on neighbours.”
Sunday Times (UK)

“Qais Akbar Omar’s memoir sets out . . . to show us the ordinary Afghanistan as well as the horror . . . Yet for all the horrors he has seen and the loved ones he has lost, there is no desire for vengeance in this account, only a profound stoicism.”
The Times (UK)

“Foreigners rarely penetrate the rich cultural depths of Afghanistan. Here at last is a powerful, haunting memoir that does justice to its tough, tenacious and astonishingly good-humoured people. The best thing about it . . . is that it is a book about Afghanistan written by an Afghan.”
Evening Standard (UK)

“Qais Akbar Omar, a young carpet merchant in Kabul, has written an autobiography that is among the best to emerge from Afghanistan . . . One of this memoir’s virtues is that it captures the chaos and depredations of the era.”
Globe and Mail (UK)

“The story of Qais’s family and their remarkable survival . . . As he shares this long journey, through terror, loss, heartbreak, and sudden moments of joy, Qais’s spirit still shines.”
Queensland Times (Australia)

“As Omar recounts in his new memoir, A Fort of Nine Towers, life in Afghanistan is full of rich culture, family tradition and storytelling . . . [it] is Omar’s attempt to heal the rift in understanding between our two cultures.”
Bookish

“[A Fort of Nine Towers] is important. It is vital. It is so simple, so honest, and so very, very real.”
LitStack

“Omar is a weaver not only of tales but also of fine rugs, and like all good tales it mixes enchantment with terror.”
Arts Journal

“This is an insider’s intimate view of a battered but beautiful country and of families that have the same cares and values as our own.”
Guelph Mercury (Canada)

“If you have an ungrateful teenager on your hands, get them a copy of A Fort of Nine Towers. I guarantee that their view of life will change for the better after reading this book.”
Afghan Culture Unveiled (blog)

“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, as a boy and his family remain trapped within the nation’s borders by familial ties and by war. 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

“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.”
—Ronald E. Neumann, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and president of the American Academy of Diplomacy

A Fort of Nine Towers [is] a powerful coming-of-age tale set in Afghanistan . . . [B]eautifully written, with the pacing and suspense of a novel, his memoir contains moments when the grief becomes almost too difficult to bear. Nonetheless, his richly detailed account of growing up in Afghanistan . . . is deeply fulfilling, remarkable not least because he lived to tell the tale. The product of an immensely talented writer, A Fort of Nine Towers puts a human face on the violent history of Afghanistan.”
—Rachel Newcomb, author of Women of Fes: Ambiguities of Life in Urban Morocco and The Gift

“The first true life memoir of growing up in Kabul, this is both a magical and a chilling book which conveys the strength of family in truly terrible times. Definitely on my recommend list for 2013.”
Christina Lamb


In the Press

A FORT OF NINE TOWERS An Afghan Family Story By Qais Akbar Omar - Washington Post
In a brief afterword to “A Fort of Nine Towers,” a powerful coming-of-age tale set in Afghanistan, Qais Akbar Omar offers a warning: “I have long carried this load of griefs in the cage of my
- The Washington Post

‘A Fort of Nine Towers,’ by Qais Akbar Omar - NYTimes.com
In this memoir, an Afghan family’s attempts to escape the horrors of war show them new ways of seeing their world.
- The New York Times

Afghan author, carpet seller, BU student tells his powerful story - Lifestyle - The Boston Globe
ais Akbar Omar is a Boston University graduate student who grew up in Afghanistan. He sees people upset over losing their smartphone or computer files, and he tells them, “This is not the end of the world. The end of the world is when you’re at a ditch filled with dead bodies and you’re thinking, “I’m the next one.’?” Omar would know, because he has been that person. He’s just published his memoir, “A Fort of Nine Towers,” the story of growing up in Kabul during the brutal years of the mujahideen and the
- The Boston Globe

A Fort of Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story By Qais Akbar Omar - Book Finder - Oprah.com
A boy and his father survive being bitten nearly to death, not by a rabid dog but by a torturer.
- Oprah

A Carpet Weaver’s Essential Afghan Memoir: Qais Akbar Omar’s ‘A Fort of Nine Towers’ - The Daily Beast
A carpet seller tells the story of his family’s odyssey through Afghanistan. John Kael Weston hails this essential Afghan memoir.
- The Daily Beast

And the Mountains Echoed, By Khaled Hosseini A Fort of Nine Towers, By Qais Akbar Omar - Reviews - Books - The Independent
There is a striking image in Nadeem Aslam's recent novel about the Allied invasion in Afghanistan that neatly captures the country's fate. The war-torn terrain in The Blind Man's Garden is studded by boot-prints left by the latest invading force. These offending imprints make vivid the fact that Afghanistan has been invaded and stamped upon for over three decades.
- The Independent

The Q&A: Qais Akbar Omar: Memories of the Taliban | The Economist
WHEN the Taliban were forced out of Kabul in 2001, life began once again for Qais Akbar Omar. He helped rebuild the family carpet business, became an interpreter for...
- The Economist

Afghan childhood recalled in 'A Fort of Nine Towers'
A FORT OF NINE TOWERS: An Afghan Family Story, by Qais Akbar Omar. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 396 pp., $27. We see the worst and best of people in Qais Akbar Omar's lucid, moving English-language m
- Newsday

Worldview: In Afghan memoir, exorcising the demons - Philly.com
At a time when American troops are leaving Afghanistan and U.S. officials are trying to talk to the Taliban, I recommend that you read a book called A Fort of Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story.
- The Philadelphia Inquirer


Reviews from Goodreads

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About the Author

Qais Akbar Omar

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.

Qais Akbar Omar

Tom Fattori
Qais Akbar Omar

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Available Formats and Book Details

A Fort of Nine Towers
An Afghan Family Story
Qais Akbar Omar

Award

Amazon.com Best Books of the Year, Bookish Best Books of the Year, Washington Post Best Books of the Year, Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year, Massachussetts Book Award - Honor Book

Hardcover

Hardcover
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
April 2013
Hardcover
ISBN: 9780374157647
ISBN10: 0374157642
6 x 9 inches, 416 pages, 3 Maps
$27.00

Trade Paperback

Trade Paperback
Picador
April 2014
Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9781250043658
ISBN10: 1250043654
5 1/2 x 8 1/4 inches, 416 pages, Includes 3 maps
$17.00

e-Book Agency

e-Book Agency
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
April 2014
e-Book Agency
ISBN: 9780374709181
ISBN10: 0374709181
416 pages, 3 Maps
$9.99
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Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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