Monday, February 16, 2015

A Fort of Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story by Qais Akbar Omar

In the U.S., we have seen much of what has happened in Afghanistan since 2001. Even before that Afghanistan was often front page news, but our attention was sporadic. Our country boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in late 1979. We noted when the warlords of the Mujahedin pushed the Soviets out and were later themselves displaced by the Taliban. We decried human rights abuses and mourned the Taliban's destruction of the ancient Buddha statues in Banyan. But worrying about whether all our computers would crash on January 1, 2000 and about the value of our tech stocks, we lost track of Afghani news until we invaded the country in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 hijackings of American commercial aircraft by Al-Qaeda terrorists.

Qais Akbar Omar and his family never for a moment forgot what was happening in Afghanistan as they had to live every dangerous day. Omar recounts their experiences from 1991 to 2001 in A Fort of Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story.

Omar was only nine years old in 1991 when the Mujahedin no longer had a common Soviet enemy to unify its ranks. Various warlords representing different ethnic groups began carving up the country and its capital Kabul, and factions began firing rockets in support of street fighting. Omar's moderately well-to-do family was forced out of the house that his grandfather had built on a hill and accept the hospitality of his father's carpet business partner in another neighborhood. Front lines of battle shifted around the city day by day for years. Omar and his father listened the BBC news in the morning to plan their daily errands.

A Fort of Nine Towers is a memoir filled with great characters, dangerous encounters, and success stories. I think it could make a riveting television mini-series. If done right, American and European viewers might get a better understanding of what happens in many countries when people are pawns to militarized governments that rule without their permission. Of course, reading will always more fulfilling than viewing a TV mini-series.

A Fort of Nine Towers has disturbing details that might turn away sensitive readers, but it is their loss if they can not overcome their reluctance to face reality. In the end, Omar's story offers both hope and caution for the future.

Omar, Qais Akbar. A Fort of Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013. 396p. ISBN 9780374157647.

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