Blind date with a Book: A Fort of Nine Towers by Qais Akbar Omar

When we imagine Afghanistan today we picture pain, poverty, and a country decimated by war. The effects of the Cold War, the Holy Wars, the rise of terrorism, and the arrival of international forces in Afghanistan have been frequent segments on news channels for as long as I can remember.

We have seen the crying, the distressed, and the wounded. We have seen the dead and the broken so often that these scenes have become typical.

The beauty of this book is that Omar does not shy away from atrocities; he writes and explicitly confides in us about the things he has seen, and the things he and his family, his friends, neighbours, and the people of Afghanistan have suffered, some of which he has never spoken about before. But, at the same time, he talks with such love about his grandfather, the beauty of gardens and green spaces, the strength of the community, the esteem he holds for his father, the silly fights that he gets into with his sisters, and the beauty of his mother’s smile.

It is a difficult book to try and surmise in that it isn’t a light read, and yet is wonderfully readable. It deals with weighty topics, and yet it is not crushing. We are burdened with a precious gift. The best way to describe A Fort of Nine Towers is with Omar’s final note to the reader:

“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.”

 

Genre: Biographical

Suitability: Descriptions of war, poverty, death, intimidation, and rape.

Suggested age range: 16-18+ (depending on your sensitivity)

 

Last chance to convince me: Omar’s writing is outright magnetic; from the first few pages you feel as though he is speaking directly to you. He writes in the present, in real-time, as though it were all happening at this very moment. I couldn’t put this book down.

 

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