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5 memoirs to add to your 2013 reading list

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2. 'A Fort of Nine Towers,' by Qais Akbar Omar

Recounting a different kind of loss is A Fort of Nine Towers, carpet designer and businessman Qais Akbar Omar’s story of his Afghan childhood. “In the time before the fighting, before the rockets, before the warlords and ... before the Taliban,” begins Omar, “we lived well.”

Omar grew up in a large and well-connected Afghan family. He and his parents and siblings and cousins enjoyed a comfortable life in Kabul, a city whose walled gardens and centuries-old traditions he recalls with pride.

But Omar was just a young teen when the world he knew began to fall apart. War and violence pushed his family out of their home and finally out of Kabul. Forced into a nomadic lifestyle, they faced perils and hardships they never could have imagined, turning Omar’s story into a travelogue and exploration of Afghanistan and its many ethnic groups. After many dramatic turns of fortune, Omar and his family finally return to Kabul – now a shadow of the city they once loved.

Omar works in the style of a fabulist. In his prose, fields are never just green but are instead “high mountain pastures that stayed lush all summer from the last of the melting snow.”

But Omar’s poetic language suits his subject. His memoir is rich in details about Afghan life and culture and leaves readers with the feel of a painfully contemporary Afghan fairy tale – frequently tragic, occasionally lovely, and still in search of a happy ending.

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