Qais Akbar Omar: A Fort of Nine Towers

“I know of no other book in which the complex realities of life — and death — in contemporary Afghanistan are so starkly and intimately portrayed,” says Jason Elliot, a favorite travel writer who has written about Iran and Afghanistan, of this autobiography by Qais Akbar Omar.

I wholeheartedly agree. It is the first published memoir about growing up in Afghanistan. So beautifully written, it describes an extraordinary life and country, its marvels, its fascinating ethnic groups, the history of its conflicts, and the horrors of three tempestuous decades.
“Pain was our way of life now,” Omar writes. The book brims with pain and loss, but it is also full of life. To have been written by someone who found solace in literature during the darkest times, and who suffered but endured the cruelty and futility of wars, makes “extraordinary” an understatement.

I read from and about these places of conflict to learn, but I have been asking myself why I have also grown to love and seek out their literature. This book illuminates one of the answers: I am drawn to how their sensitivity to beauty is commensurate with their heightened awareness of the fragility of life.

And if it is this that their lives and words constantly teach me, among a hundred other things, then I will continue to read from this part of the world.

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