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A Fort of Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story Hardcover – April 16, 2013

4.8 out of 5 stars 280 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Omar’s Afghan childhood encompassed the love of an extended family and the violent tyranny of warlords and the Taliban, and he renders every facet with the glorious precision and rich palette of the exquisite carpets that provided a livelihood for his grandfather, father, and, eventually, himself. Kabul in the 1980s was a lush garden, where young Omar flew kites, excelled at school, and played with a band of cousins. The Mujahedin rapidly destroyed this verdant world, and Omar and his family fled the city for the Fort of Nine Towers, an old outpost filled with flowers, fruit trees, deer, peacocks, even a leopard. But war came to this paradise, too, precipitating his family’s death-defying cross-country quest for sanctuary. They joined nomadic relatives on a caravan and lived in the caves behind one of the towering Buddhas of Bamiyan, which the Taliban later destroyed. Though he is as modest as he is entrancing, Omar clearly was a preternaturally attentive, sensitive boy with a gift for languages and an artistic eye, who embraced the diversity, beauty, and wisdom of Afghan life. He also suffered the soul-scarring horrors of looting, bombs, snipers, homelessness, atrocities, incarceration, and torture. Omar tells this staggering true story of a life and a land of radiance and terror with magnificent humility, grace, and power. --Donna Seaman


“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.” ―The Times (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


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1St Edition edition (April 16, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374157642
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374157647
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (280 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #305,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Qais Akbar Omar (whose first name is pronounced "Kice") is the author of A Fort of Nine Towers, which has been published in over twenty languages.

Omar was born in 1982 in Kabul, Afghanistan. He holds a BA in journalism from Kabul University. He studied business at Brandeis University and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Boston University. In 2007, he was a visiting scholar at the University of Colorado. Currently, he is a Scholars at Risk Fellow at Harvard University.

For the 2012 anthology, That Mad Game: Growing up in a War Zone, Omar contributed the lead essay, A Talib In Love. He has also written articles for The Atlantic, op-eds for The New York Times, The Sunday Times, London, and an essay for The Cairo Review of Global Affairs. He is the co-author, with Stephen Landrigan, of Shakespeare in Kabul, and A Night in the Emperor's Garden.

Omar serves as a goodwill ambassador for Aschiana Foundation in Kabul and for the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women.

Connect with Omar on Facebook or via his website (www.kabulcarpets.com) to learn more.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Qais Akbar Omar's account of life in Afghanistan during his childhood through his young adult years had me mesmerized with every turn of the page. It details the tenuous existence of his family and their struggle to survive as Mujahedin factions fight for control of the country. Their home becomes part of the battleground with snipers shooting at them and rockets exploding nearby, so the family flees to an old fort on the other side of Kabul.
When Qais and his father return to the house to get the gold buried in the courtyard, they are caught and imprisoned and forced into slave labor. Qais and his father are tortured along with the other captives. They are freed by a commander who once knew Qais's father before the war. They get home in time to attend their own funeral. One would think that this brush with death would be enough adventure to last a lifetime, but it is only the beginning of Qais's fascinating account of his life in Afghanistan. While the country is torn apart by warring tribesmen, the Omars desperately seek to get away to another country. During their journeys they meet kind, hospitable countrymen who feed and shelter them along with tribal thugs who plunder and do unspeakable things to travelers. At one point Qais and his father are captured again, tied spread eagle on a wooden frame, and bitten by a man with fangs! You can't make this stuff up! There are more than enough close encounters with death and hardship to propel any reader forward, but there are also descriptions of the kindness and beauty of the Afghans who want no part of war and yearn for civilization to return.
The book is written in simple, easy to read prose. I felt as if I were sitting by a campfire and listening as Qais tells his remarkable story of a country in turmoil, of a close knit, caring family, of a rich culture destroyed by war and of the unspeakable atrocities committed in the name of religion.
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Format: Hardcover
This review is from: A Fort of Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story (Hardcover)
A Fort of Nine Towers, by Qais Akbar Omar, is one of the very best works of literature I have ever read. This is a moving, beautifully written, extraordinary book. I have not been so deeply moved by a literary work since I first started reading Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in my teens. I would cry and be amazed, uplifted, each time I read a chapter in A Fort of Nine Towers. My heart lay on every page.

We in Boston and Cambridge have just lived through an extraordinary week of suffering and inconceivable violence and as I was finishing A Fort of Nine Towers, I thought of what an important message Qais Akbar Omar has to offer in this magnificent memoir.

I was struck on every page of this book that the author was able to hold simultaneously the horror and disbelief of the events that were happening to him and his family in Afghanistan and neighbors and yet miraculously hold also the intensely beautiful moments of not only the physical beauty of his country, but more importantly, the beauty of his father's, grandfather's, and mother's words and actions. The sublimity of his descriptions of his relationship with his family members, of their conversations, of their lives together is breathtaking.

This is a message for our times, when so many feel despair over acts of terrorism, war and violence. This author gives the reader a gift on every page by showing his open heart, which breathed in the wisdom and grace of those who inspired, touched and sustained him.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This was a fairly amazing book. It traces the life of the author, born during the relatively calm Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, who then lives through the subsequent craziness of the warring Mujahadin and Taliban. It is both intense and beautiful, showing both the intense hospitality and intense cruelty within Afghanistan, as the family struggles to survive through endless war.

It starts with the authors youth, with a stable multigenerational family that lives in Kabul. This early section paints an intimate portrait of life in an Afghani family during normal times. As the civil war breaks out with the withdrawal of the Soviets, civilization collapses, and the author and his family are forced to move many times, at one point wandering throughout the country seeking refuge in many different cities. This section, like all others, mixes together intense stories of love and hospitality, as strangers in villages take in and shelter his family, as well as intense cruelty -- as at various times the author is captured, tortured, forced to watch brutal gang rapes and much more. This study of contrasts makes the book more poignant.

There are many books I've read about Afghanistan, but primarily they are told from the outside -- from journalists or historians. This is the second book about Afghanistan i've read that comes directly from the first person view of an Afghani living through the times, and this, combined with the excellent and direct writing style of the author, make it a very notable and worthwhile read.

Excellent book
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