Sometimes, facts are more shocking than fiction. This is more so when it comes to the bloody tales of Afghanistan. While Khalid Hosseni’s first novel, `The Kite Runner’, broke our hearts with facts told in fiction, his second novel, ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’, touched our emotional chords through the story of gritty women of this devastated country.
But now Qais Akbar Omar, a childhood kite runner-turned carpet weaver, provides the true accounts of these stories in a matter of fact autobiography titled ‘A Fort of Nine Towers’ (396 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $27). The book is full of heart-wrenching anecdotes, taken directly from the author’s childhood days. His story is also the story of a gritty father, a grandfather, uncles, friends and families.
Qais has woven these anecdotes as skilfully as his angel-like teacher taught him. The saga revolves around his family taking refuge from Taliban in the house of his father’s business friend, which is a hundred-year-old, nine-towered fort called Qala-e-Noborja. They live there for some time and then try to escape to locations which are away from war and strife. Like in a game of chess, they move from place to place: A riverside, Tashkurghan, Bamyan caves, Kuchi herders and finally Mazar. They escape a flash flood while staying in the riverside; were offered shelter by a farmer whose pomegranates Qais had stolen the earlier day; invited by Kuchi nomads from among whom Qais’ grandfather had married a girl in the past. It is at Mazar that Qais meets a masterful weaver girl, a deaf and mute ‘angel’. Qais learns the intricacies of quality weaving from her. His poetic expressions come to the fore while writing about this wonderful teacher. He even ends the book in search of her, as by now, he has become a popular carpet manufacturer. The enduring charm turns elusive.
Anchored between 1990s and 2000s, `A Fort of Nine Towers’ brings the saga of a family, intensely interfered by the Taliban and all other Afghan factions. Qais sees hundreds of dead bodies in a single house, witnesses a rape, escapes sniper shots and still survives. He was even stopped mid-road by a Taliban zealot who measures his pubic hairs in public to see whether they are as per Taliban rules! Thus we get to know how Afghans survived the Taliban regime. The sense of humour of father is another highlight of this interesting narrative.
The book, with many matter-of-fact details, is worth for its non-glorified narration. Afghanistan is still clueless about its destiny and Qais’ story looks like a spot in its timeline. But people like Khalid Hosseni, who has established a charity foundation, Qais Akbar Omar who is campaigning for peace, and Greg Mortenson (with two highly acclaimed books `Three Cups of Tea’ and `Stones into Schools’), who established a number of schools for Afghan children, and many such activist-writers provide a ray of hope for this strife-torn country.
– Beluru Sudarshana