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A Fort of Nine Towers

The surprising, stunning book that took the publishing world by storm: a coming-of-age memoir of unimaginable perils and unexpected joys, steeped in the rhythms of folk tales and poetry, that is as unforgettable as it is rare--a treasure for readers.
 
Qais Akbar Omar was born in Kabul in a time of relative peace. Until he was 7, he lived with his father, a high school physics teacher, and mother, a bank manager, in the spacious, garden-filled compound his grandfather had built. Noisy with the laughter of his cousins (with whom they lived in the typical Afghan style), fragrant with the scent of roses and apple blossoms, and rich in shady, tucked-away spots where Qais and his grandfather sat and read, home was the idyllic centre of their quiet, comfortable life.
 
But in the wake of the Russian withdrawal and the bloody civil conflict that erupted, his family was forced to flee and take refuge in the legendary Fort of Nine Towers, a centuries-old palace in the hills on the far side of Kabul. On a perilous trip home, Omar and his father were kidnapped, narrowly escaping, and the family fled again, his parents leading their 6 children on a remarkable, sometimes wondrous journey. Hiding inside the famous giant Bamiyan Buddhas sculpture, and among Kurchi herders, Omar cobbles together an education, learning the beautiful art of carpet-weaving from a deaf mute girl, which will become the family's means of support. Against a backdrop of uncertainty, violence and absurdity, young Qais Omar weaves together a story--and a self--that is complex, colourful, and profound.

Praise for A Fort of Nine Towers

“An autobiography that is among the best to emerge from Afghanistan.... A memorably harrowing view into the decade preceding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s invasion.... One of this memoir’s virtues is that it captures the chaos and depredations of the era, and explains completely why Afghans at first welcomed the Taliban as liberators.... We’re lucky to have it described in such detail.”
—Graeme Wood, The Globe and Mail
 
“Extraordinary.... 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.”
London Evening Standard
 
“The painful, sometimes funny human complexities of [his] anecdotes make Omar’s book more than simply an eye-opening account of a terrible period in recent history.... A Fort of Nine Towers is...a classic autobiography of universal resonance.... Tender and hopeful against all odds.”
Newsday (New York)
 
“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 in a place where neighbours turned upon neighbours.”
The Sunday Times
 
“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.... He is as modest as he is entrancing.... Omar tells this staggering true story of a life and a land of radiance and terror with magnificent humility, grace, and power.”
Booklist (starred review)
 
A Fort of Nine Towers is an unusual memoir: it is the innocent, wide-eyed journey of Qais Akbar Omar from child to adult; a coming of age during the factional wars of Afghanistan. Part history, part family archive, and part witness to the horrors of war, the gift of this young author is his uncanny ability to see the good in all things. Somehow, almost miraculously, Qais Akbar Omar is able to extract the humanity from the horror. His is a heartbreaking story, in a heartbreaking country, told with the wonder and beauty of a master storyteller.”
—Jonathan Garfinkel, author of Ambivalence

“Few books have been written about Afghanistan, fewer by those who know what they are talking about, and none, until now, by Afghans born there, living there, who went through it all. Qais Akbar Omar knows of what he writes. He's lived it: the Soviets, the Civil War, the Taliban, and the current occupation. A Fort of Nine Towers brings you gracefully into this epochal time in the crossroads of civilization. Read this because it is the best description of what it was like. Read it because it is authentic, a portrayal of a people and a way of life very few Westerners will ever experience. Read it because this dusty scrap of real estate, contested by all of the great powers for millennia will impact the lives of us all. But most of all, read it because it is beautiful.”
—Hunter Lovins, author of 13 books, most recently Climate Capitalism
 
“[Qais Akbar Omar] has drawn from the roots of his childhood in Afghanistan, and has reminded the world, ‘Don't curse the darkness, light a candle.’”
—Heidi Kuhn, Founder/CEO of Roots of Peace
 
A Fort of Nine Towers is an extraordinary memoir of one young Afghan's coming of age in a time of madness. The story of his middle class family’s struggle to survive during a decade of civil war and Taliban rule is as haunting as The Kite Runner. With its vivid descriptions of Afghan life and death in city and countryside, it is impossible to put down, especially since we know these tragedies could happen again.”
—Trudy Rubin,  The Philadelphia Inquirer 

“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 in 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
 
“From squatting inside the cave of a head of a Bamiyan buddha to escaping torture at the teeth of the 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 remained 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
 
“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
 
“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