A Fort of Nine Towers: An Afghan Childhood

Qais Akbar Omar. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (400p) ISBN 978-0-374-15764-7
In this painstaking memoir, Kabul carpet seller and Brandeis M.B.A. student Omar recreates an idyllic childhood gradually wrecked by years of civil war and Taliban oppression. One of some 25 cousins who had the run of the family compound constructed on the Kot-e-Sangi mountainside of Kabul by his grandfather, a Pashtun banker who was also a carpet seller, Omar enjoyed an insular early upbringing, surrounded by doting aunts and uncles, luxuriant gardens, kite flying, copious meals, and a stringent education at school and from his own father, a physics teacher and former boxer who ran a gym near the house. As the factious mujahideen (“holy warriors”) began to fight among each other, living in the compound became untenable, and the extended family took refuge on the other side of the mountain in the mansion owned by his father’s carpet-business partner, a former royal residence now semiruined, called the Qala-e-Noborja, or “Fort of the Nine Towers.” Over subsequent years of turmoil, Omar and his family managed to survive the violence and instability besieging Afghanistan, and whenever they ventured out—for example, when Omar accompanied his grandfather to survey the damage at the old house—the results were horrifying. On one of his fantastic nomadic treks north, he even managed to learn carpet-making from a deaf Turkmen girl with exquisite intuitive technique. Omar’s tale strains credulity, but his prose is deliciously forthright, extravagant, somewhat mischievous, and very Afghan in its sense of long-suffering endurance and also reconciliation. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 01/28/2013
Release date: 04/16/2013
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Paperback - 416 pages - 978-1-250-04365-8
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