Opening Lines: 'A Fort of Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story,' by Qais Akbar Omar

  • Updated: April 11, 2013 - 4:37 PM

“A Fort of Nine Towers” by Qais Akbar Omar

Qais Akbar Omar spent his boyhood in Kabul. When the war broke out, the family fled. Omar and his father returned and were kidnapped. His memoir begins like this:

The calls always come early in the morning. Sometimes I am still praying when I hear my mother’s phone ring upstairs. I lean forward and touch my head to the carpet and make an extra effort to focus on the ancient verses streaming through my mind.

Alla-hu-Akbar. Subhanna rabbiyal A’ala …

Even before my mother answers it, I know who is calling.

It is my aunt, in Canada. She has just come home from a wedding party where she met a family with a daughter, a beautiful girl, very intelligent, and funny. A very good family. They are from Kabul, or Kandahar, or Mazar-e-Sharif, and our grandfather knew their uncle, or her father went to Habibia High School with the cousin of our neighbor who used to manage the Ariana Hotel before it was destroyed, or …

Qul Huwa Allahu ’Ahadun, Allahu, As-Samadu, Lam Yalid Wa Lam Yulad, Walam Yakun Lahu Kufuan ’Ahadun.

My aunt has been in Canada for thirty years. I think she knows all the other Afghans there. She helped many of them when they first arrived, even though she herself was a young widow with a small daughter in a strange land whose language she struggled to master. Afghans never forget a kindness, though. Now, everywhere she goes, she is welcomed by those she helped and respected for the kindness in her heart. Almost every week, except during Ramazan, she is invited to a wedding.


  • A FORT OF NINE TOWERS

    By: Qais Akbar Omar.

    Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 396 pages, $27.

    On sale: Tuesday.

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