For the young Qais Akbar Omar, Kabul was a city of gardens where he flew kites from his grandfather's roof with his cousin Wakeel while their parents, uncles, and aunts drank tea around a cloth spread in the grass. It was a time of telling stories, reciting poetry, selling carpets, and arranging marriages.Then civil war exploded. Their neighborhood found itself on the front line of a conflict that grew more savage by the day.
With rockets falling around them, Omar's family fled, leaving behind everything they owned to take shelter in an old fortonly a few miles distant and yet a world away from the gunfire. As the violence escalated, Omar's father decided he must take his children out of the country to safety. On their perilous journey, they camped in caves behind the colossal Buddha statues in Bamyan, and took refuge with nomad cousins, herding their camels and sheep. While his father desperately sought smugglers to take them over the border, Omar grew up on the road, and met a deaf-mute carpet weaver who would show him his life's purpose.
Later, as the Mujahedin war devolved into Taliban madness, Omar learned about quiet resistance. He survived a brutal and arbitrary imprisonment, and, at eighteen, opened a secret carpet factory to provide work for neighborhood girls, who were forbidden to go to school or even to leave their homes. As they tied knots at their looms, Omar's parents taught them literature and science.
In this stunning coming-of-age memoir, Omar recounts terrifyingly narrow escapes and absurdist adventures, as well as moments of intense joy and beauty. Infected with folktales, steeped in poetry, A Fort of Nine Towers is a life-affirming triumph.
In the Time Before
In the time before the fighting, before the rockets, before the warlords and their false promises, before the sudden disappearance of so many people we knew to graves or foreign lands, before the Taliban and their madness, before the smell of death hung daily in the air and the ground was soaked in blood, we lived well.
* * *
We have no photos. It was too dangerous to keep them during the time of the Taliban, so we destroyed them. But the images of our lives before all hope fled Afghanistan remain sharp and clear.
My mother is wearing her short skirt, sitting in her office in a bank, tending to a long line of customers. She is respected for her knowledge of banking, and her ability to solve people's problems.
My father looks like a movie star in his bell-bottom trousers, speeding through the Kabul streets on his motorcycle. Sometimes he ties me to his back with a tight belt. His long hair catches the wind as we ride off. ...
A Fort of Nine Towers provides valuable insight into Afghani life and recent history from a native's perspective. I really felt I learned something from the author's account, and I think anyone with an interest in what has been going on in Afghanistan over the past 20 years, would do well to pick up a copy.
(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).
Full Review (1260 words).
Westerners often hear news reports of groups known as the Mujahideen, the Taliban, and Al-Qaeda. It can be easy to confuse or merge them in one's thinking, but they are of course separate organizations with differing histories, goals and characteristics.
The Mujahideen (singular mujahid) comes from the word jihad, which means, "struggle." First referenced in the Quran, a mujahid is a Muslim who struggles in the path of Allah. Over time this has taken on the connotation of being one who proclaims himself a warrior for the faith, or someone who is a freedom fighter struggling to liberate his land from non-Muslim influence, sometimes by violent means. The term is currently used rather freely, often to describe any ...
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