Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Review: A Fort of Nine Towers by Qais Akbar Omar

Title: A Fort of Nine Towers
Author: Qais Akbar Omar
Publisher:  Picador
Pages: 416
Genres: Non-fiction, Memoir
Qais Akbar Omar's young life coincided with one of the cost convulsive decades in Afghan history: civil war, the rise of the Taliban, and the arrival of international troops in 2001.

A Fort of Nine Towers, named for the place his parents first sought shelter from war, is the story of Qais's family and their remarkable survival. When the fighting came, this group of tenacious and deeply loving people was buffered from one part of Afghanistan to the next, 'like kittens in the jaws of a lion'. They set up camp on the plains, in the Buddha caves of Bamiyan, and later with Kuchi nomads, before they were finally able to return to Kabul - where in many senses their trials were just beginning.

As he shares this long journey, through terror, loss, heartbreak, and sudden moments of joy. Qais's spirit never ceases to shine. This is an extraordinary book about a beautiful and civilised country ravaged by war, and about the power of stories to embolden, console, and bind a family together in the face of almost unimaginable odds.
'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.'

Wow, what a start to my reading year. A Fort of Nine Towers is the author's memoir of growing up in Afghanistan during a couple of decades of civil war and the Taliban. It chronicles the author's entire family as they are forced to flee their Grandfather's house (where the whole extended family lived together) and became refugees. It is a tale of survival and Qais speaks about the terrible things that he experienced that were so horrific, I just don't know how any human could have borne it. Honestly. I could never have imagined the things that happened to him, and his story is truly a testament to the power of the human spirit.

One of my favourite parts of this book was the beginning, when Qais talks about Afghanistan as a beautiful country with a strong community spirit and it was just lovely learning of a culture that I have never experienced or even knew that much about. I found the writing to be beautiful and the pacing was just perfect. I was so riveted by this book that I just was thinking of it constantly.

I was eleven years old when the 9/11 happened and I have perfect 'flashbulb' memories of getting home from school and seeing it on the news and being shocked. But to think of all the evil that was going on in Afghanistan and other countries that had been happening for years before, it just blows my mind. What civil war and the Taliban did to the people of Afghanistan just has be read to be believed, and to think its not over now even as I type. Depressing. But I think Qais tells his memoir with so much love, compassion and hope that when I reached the last page I felt hopeful also.

Some bits in this book will just stick with me forever, for example, there was a chapter where Qais was describing how one day he was stopped by a member of the Taliban in the street and was told to remove his clothes so that his armpit and pubic hair could be measured, or face being taken to prison. His armpit and pubic hair had to be under one inch. Of course Qais's hair was not under an inch and so he was forced into a car that was going to take him to the Taliban prison, where Qais knew he was going to be raped by that man. How he escaped that situation, its just incredible. There are numerous upsetting scenes that are even worse than that so TRIGGER WARNINGS of human rights abuses, rape and torture. It's very grim.

I think everybody should read this memoir as it is profoundly moving and gives an own voice perspective of Afghanistan and it's people, it is reminiscent of Persepolis which I also loved. I can't recommend highly enough.

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