[Books] An Afghan Odyssey from Within

A Fort of Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story
By Qais Akbar Omar | Farrar, Straus and Giroux | 2013

Unlike many books on Afghanistan written by foreigners and Afghan expatriates, A Fort of Nine Towers is a memoir of native Afghan Qais Akbar Omar. Omar presents a rare first hand account of one of the most violent periods of Afghan history beginning with the release from the Soviet occupation, the arrival of the Mujahideen, the Taliban takeover and then the US intervention. Omar skillfully paints vivid, detailed accounts of chilling and outrageous stories of such horrid times along with the resilience, warmth and beauty of his family and other Afghans.

Young Omar grows up as part of a wealthy family in the lush city of Kabul where life is filled with kite racing, picnics, selling carpets, adults drinking tea, reciting poetry, arranging marriages, etc. When he is eight years old, this world ends with the arrival of the Mujahideen and a period of civil war, with Kabul as the main playground. Flying rockets and gunfire all over the city force Omar’s family to leave their home together with their extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins. They find refugee at a house on the outskirts of Kabul, a hundred-year-old fort called Qala-e-Noborja, owned by Omar’s father’s business partner. Outside the walls of this haven, war is rampant everywhere, and each trip outside brings back tastes of the horror. Whenever Omar and his father or grandfather venture to Kabul to check on their house during periods of ceasefire, they are either threatened, tortured, imprisoned, or kidnapped. Yet, somehow, they always survive, even though once to return to Qala-e-Noborja to interrupt their own funeral.

As the fighting spreads, they must leave the fort and they start traveling throughout the country. They live with their nomadic relatives for some time and later in the caves by the grand ancient Buddhist statues in Bamyan (later to be dynamited by the Taliban). When staying in Mazar, Omar learns how to weave carpets from the Turkmen family living next door, especially from the deaf daughter who has a very special skill of weaving beautiful carpets from more than 50 colors of thread. Later, Omar’s carpet weaving skills save the family when they return to Kabul during the Taliban regime and he establishes a secret carpet weaving factory and runs the family business. During Omar’s family’s exodus outside of Kabul, traveling from one place to another, they desperately try to find a way out of the county. Yet, as American air strikes start to hit Taliban strongholds after 9/11, Omar and his father are overcome with a strong love for their country and decide to stay and help rebuild the nation.

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