Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

A Fort of Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story

Posted by nliakos on December 21, 2015

by Qais Akbar Omar (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2013; ISBN 978-0-374-15764-7)

This book has to be one of the most memorable I have ever read. Qais Akbar Omar tells the story of how he and most of his family somehow managed to survive thirty years of civil war in Afghanistan. But it was not easy. From the time he was barely eleven, Omar was exposed to danger and brutality that no child should ever face. He was captured, enslaved, and tortured by fighters of one or another of the warring factions. While still a child, he witnessed murders and rapes and saw dead bodies and pieces of bodies. But he also met many good people: the man who gave his family a place to live (the eponymous house of nine towers) after his grandfather’s house was destroyed; the kind person who offered the family hospitality while they were trying to escape abroad; the Buddhist hermit who lived in a Bamyan cave;  the Kuchi nomads with whom they lived and traveled for several months; the teacher-turned-baker who saved his life; and the Turkmen family whose deaf-mute daughter taught him to make the beautiful and unusual carpets that eventually permitted him to employ many neighborhood children, both boys and girls, to weave the carpets that lifted his family out of poverty. Although some of the events described in the book are truly horrific (after reading the part when Qais and his father are enslaved in a dark tunnel where unspeakable acts of cruelty take place, I was reluctant to go to sleep, afraid I would see nightmares), the family’s indomitable spirit is so inspiring I almost want to read it again. At the end, I learned that the book began as a kind of therapy to help Omar express the memories that were haunting him. On a page following the Epilogue, he writes: “I have long carried this load of griefs in the cage of my heart. Now I have given them to you. I hope you are strong enough to hold them.”

I hope I am strong enough.

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