[Book Review] – A Fort of Nine Towers (2013) By Qais Akbar Omar

By The Gorgeous Palah Chingu

“I have long carried this load of griefs in the cage of my heart. Now I have given them to you. I hope you are strong enough to hold them.”- Qais Akbar Omar

My Rating: 5/5 (Thats because I have not been so moved by a book in a long while).
My Rating: 5/5 (Thats because I have not been so moved by a book in a long while).

If you ask me is it that GOOD to give 5 stars for this book, i would say 5 is not good enough. I cried, I laughed, I cheered and I felt all sort of emotions that the author told me via his story. This book consisted of 3 parts of author and his family story in it. The first part, you felt warmhearted imagining at the back of your head how he told his childhood story. The way he presented his point of view about his culture is just an honest expression of how he felt due to the way he was raised. He was born in the Pashtun Family and he lived together in a big house with his uncles, aunties and his grandfather is in their culture. He talked about it and enlightened those who find it such a strange culture. He described his childhood to be bright and colorful as he was surrounded by playful cousins and loving relatives. He pointed out that though his family are from Pashtun ethnic but he never spoke Pashto in the house. All of his family members are comfortable using Dari (another language that are widely used in Afghanistan aside Pashto). It is not a big deal for him because he learned Pashto and knew how to use it but he stated that he preferred Dari More. The Kite competition during his past childhood is one of the fiercest battle he ever encountered when he was a kid. He bragged about how his cousin Wakeel can easily defeated other opponent and has been named as ‘The Cruel Kite Cutter’ in their neighborhood. He cherished the moment of one of his family’s servants, Bahar helped him to win the competition by cutting Wakeel’s kite. For the author, The childhood in the big house with all of his cousins is one of the best memories he had.

The second part, you started feeling sad and wanted to help them to get through that awful war ( from Russian, Mujahideen, Taliban and American army). When the war (The Mujahideen Army) is approaching Afghanistan, The Author’s family felt that they are the savior. They had came to chase the Russian and Communism. They felt optimistic about this Army and wished that they will build back their destroyed nation. They are indeed wrong. Not long after Mujahideen’s arrival, The power struggle between factions occurred. Many died because of that. The author’s family felt they are no longer safe staying at their big house. The battle between factions of Mujahideen had turned most of them from being a ‘God’s Man’ to ‘Low-class criminal’. They robbed other’s properties and killed those who defied them. Fearing that their life will not be saved, the author’s family decided to take a refuge in his father’s friend house. They stayed there until American Army came to hunt every single Taliban army that resides in the country. The whole feeling when i read the second part is helplessness. I cant bloody do anything, I just keep moving on to the next pages, hoping the author’s family survived the calamity fell upon them. There was one scene that i deeply remembered because i truly feared that the author and his grandfather will not survived. First scene is when his grandfather stubbornly wanted to take a look at his house that he left a long time ago since Mujahideen Army came. He wanted to bring Author’s uncle originally but his uncle pleaded to wait until a few days for ceasefire between factions to happen. However, His grandfather could not wait any longer and ordered the author to go with him. When his father did not object his grandfather’s decision, he knew he had to accompany him no matter what. When they are on their way, They has been captured by Hazara’s faction of Mujahideen. It was truly a terrifying moment. They had been locked in a room where the walls are full of writing of those who ever lived in it. His grandfather knew that they are going to be killed. He told the author to be strong and in case if he’s got a chance to live, try his hardest to escape. He also told the author that those men might ‘used’ him but he insisted him to endure as surviving is more important. The author cried and asked his grandfather to stop talking nonsense. When the leader of the faction asked what they are both doing in the area, His grandfather told that they are visiting his house in the area. It turned out before the war, the leader is one of the students of the author’s father. He decided to let them go and send them both back. The author picturized the whole scene as his first death escape experience.

The third part is where the age of ignorance came and how the Taliban rules did alter the whole nation. He told what he deeply felt about them in this book. He stated that they brough strange peace into the country. How peace can be such strange thing? He revealed decrees of Taliban that insisted on Hudud Punishment and Fundamentalism of Islamic Law. No Music, No Entertainment, No Pictures, No Free Relationship between Boys and Girls, No Open Courtship and up to the extend of NO to everything. How did they governed Afghanistan? They said Yes to everything which considered good in Holy Quran. When he said strange peace, he does not mean it a good way. He felt the Afghan community and culture suddenly died and they can no longer do what they usually did. He said girls in Taliban’s time faced it much worse because they cant attend school , they have to wore Burqa all the time , they cannot work and they have to be accompanied by their male relatives if they wanted to go to other places. He portrayed vividly the moment of how Taliban used the stadium to carry out the punishment of those they claimed to be a sinner. To witness the scene of girls being stoned to death, the thieves whose hand is being cut and the murderers being shot at the head right away is one of the horrifying moments author ever had. He also reflected back the time he went to jail just for not cutting his hair according to Taliban Standard. In the jail, he was beaten by the religious officers and only to be released when he could answers all of their questions about Islam and Taliban.

According to this book, The author’s cousin named Wakeel and his grandfather played a big role in his life. He cherished both of them in temple of his heart. The wording that he put in this book to portray them both is simple yet poetic. You can sense his sincerity and tenderness in the book. The author even managed to share some of the stories of good people he met despite of war in his journey back and forth with his family.Whether it is from Hazara, Turkmenistan or Pashtun, They are indeed kind people who helped him when he needed it.

Can you see how huge this book is?
Can you see how huge this book is? The book size that i preferred is on my left (The Kite Runner Book) and in the middle one (which i tolerated because it is not that heavy).

To be honest, I hated books that had a huge size (compared to the normal size) which is for me difficult to hold it during reading. This book turned me off right away when i first saw it sitting among bookshelves in a local bookstore. I wanted to ignore the book and move on to another section but my instinct kept asking me to flip a few pages of this particular book. I turned a few pages of this book and i sighed. There is no foreword or rave review by other famous authors. I am skeptical at first but i bought it. I bought it in the sense that i loved non fiction books and above all, it is middle-eastern literature especially from Afghanistan and Iran. After reading a few chapters, I was completely blown away. I wondered how Afghani authors (Khaled Hosseini and others) can easily grasp my attention and i am completely hooked on the way he told his tale. If you like Khaled Hosseini, You should buy this book. What differentiate Qais Akbar Omar from Khaled Hosseini is he did tell the TRUE story and what really happpened to him while he was growing up in Afghanistan in a time of War. I can assure you guys that this book is indeed one of the best books i’ve ever read in 2014.

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The Patience Stone (2012) : Foreign Film Review

By The Gorgeous Palah Chingu

“Those who do not know how to make love, make war”.

Those who are close to me always knew that i have a very deep connection with Afghanistan. I dont know what intrigued me to love that country but i did love it. I watched its films, I read about them regardless what its all about. It can be about war, taliban, women oppression, life-changing moment and so many more. I even planning to go there one day, i dont know when but god willing, i will one day. I found ‘The Patience Stone’ by accident when i searching of Asghar Farhadi. Well, if you didnt know him, he is one of the top Iranian Film Maker. I watched his last film during 2011 and kind of wondering whether he’s already released his new film. That’s when i stumbled upon ‘The Patience Stone’. It was a bit disappointed seeing wikipedia didnt tell much about this film especially the synopsis and plot of the story. i, then followed my gut and downloaded this film.

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My Rating: 4/5

The story begins with the young woman, who are nameless talking to her husband whom twice his age at his side. She kept babbling but her husband didnt respond to any of it. It turns out that her husband is an ex afghan Jihadi militia. He has been shot at the back of his neck. He survived the injury but he is in a vegetative state. The war still continued at that time and the young woman does not have enough money to support his medicine and other necessaries at that time. She then run across the city searching for her aunt only to find that her aunt is already gone. She tried to find her mother in law and brother in law but it turn out they already fled the city together. She was left behind because she still has a husband and it is not their responsibility to take care of her. She was devastated. She was desperate at that time. The bombing is worsen day by day and she knew she could not stay at her house any longer.

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Golshifteh Farahani as ‘The Young Woman’

She took both her daughters out of their house right after the tragedy happened to her neighboir. Her neighbor going crazy because she found the body of her family hang in the tree infront of their house. Her husband and children had been slaughtered by another group of militant in the cross fire last night. Due to safety of her daughters, she left her vegetative husband behind and promised that she would come back once she found a safe place for them. She kept searching for her aunt until she found her at the brothel house. She seeks help and protection for her daughters from her aunt. Her aunt welcomed her family with an open heart. Every morning, she will go to her home to replace her husband’s medicine fluid, clothes and while she’s doing that, she will talk to him.

She talked to her husband continuously although she didnt get any respond from him.
She talked to her husband continuously although she didnt get any respond from him.

The real story began here when she poured her heart out to her husband almost every day. She knew her husband listened to her. She talked how she was so frustrated with their marriage, their dull sex life, their platonic relationship that involved almost no romance at all, her pressure of having to get pregnant and so many more. She enjoyed her talk with her husband because he didnt listen to her before. If she were to talk or to tell him what to do, she will get slapped or beaten or much worse. When she got this rare opportunity, she mentioned everything that she buried as a secret before. (THIS IS SPOILER) She revealed that both of their daughter are not from his seed because he’s the sterile one not her. However, She’s afraid that he might getting another wife, she seeks her auntie’s help to get pregnant.

Her aunt is the saviour for the young woman.
The young woman and her aunt.

She faced some danger while traveling back and forth to see her husband at home and attend to her daughter’s need at the brothel house. She was left no choice. She had to do it. On one day, she came across two militia man that barged into her home looking for protection due to cross fire they faced that day. The older man asked her what she was doing alone in that house. The young woman afraid of being raped by both of them, she lied to them by saying that she is a prostitute. She was cursed by that old man and get spitted because of her sin in doing that kind of job. Her aunt told her that what she did was a right action as “man didnt want to rape a hole that has been used for a thousand times”.

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The Young Woman and Her Vegetative Husband.

She returned to her house the next day to continue her routine as usual. The young man from the Militia that she met yesterday came to meet her. He then raped her and left alot of money to her. She was heartbroken and traumatized by the event. However, on the bright side, she could use the money to buy the medicine, to replenish the food and to pay the water bearer to fill the water in her house. The young man kept coming back to her asking for sex and in return, she was paid for it. She laid beside her vegetative husband and told him the experience of being with the young man. She enjoyed every moment with the young man as he is a gentle lover according to the young woman. He did what she told her to and didnt even get angry compared to her husband. The ending approached when the Young Woman confessed that their childrens does not belong to him. The old husband awake at that moment and try to strangle her wife but she managed to stab him first. While he was drawing his last breath, the young woman laid beside him with the eyes filled with tears and regret.

The story is adapted from this book.
The story is adapted from this book.

After watching this film, i swear if i find the book, i will buy it right away. I wanted to know what is the feeling of the young woman to young militia man. Is it love, is it empathy, or is it because of money? The is one particular scene that i really love in the movie is when the young man running to the young woman’s house and asked from her only one minute to talk to her. The young woman taught that he wanted sex and asked him to come back later but the young man insisted it right away. When they both entered the room, the young woman take off the young man’s clothes. She then understood that the young man came to tell her about his plight. He was abused by the older militia man and has been forced of being his dancing boy for so long. The young woman saw the burned mark at the chest and the back of young militia man. She then cried while telling her husband about the difficulty faced by the young man. She said with tears in her eyes ‘That bastard spitted on me when i said i am a whore but look what he’s done to the poor orphan, in the morning he is a militia man, in the evening, he wears bell at his feet’.

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When She discovered that he was abused and being used as a dancing boy, she hugged him tightly.
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Their ‘Forbidden’ Relationship
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Massi Mrowat as The Young Militia Man

This story is not for a weak heart obviously. In the War torn country, she survived the life of being a woman who is a voiceless and seen as a piece of meat by the opposite gender. She did whatever it takes to survive and to ensure that she could go on with her life and her daughters. The question of betrayal in marriage, forbidden love and belief is no longer relevant when you are in her shoes. This is one of amazing film that within it hides a various emotions and feelings when you are watching it. The title of the film which is the patience stone referred to the old tale of persian that the stone listened to all your secrets and you can tell the stone everything without being scared of being judged or mocked. In this film, we can see that the young woman treated her vegetative husband like a patience stone.

Book Review : Raising My Voice by Malalai Joya (2009)

by the gorgeous Palah Chingu

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“I don’t fear death; I fear remaining silent in the face of injustice. I am young and I want to live. But I say to those who would eliminate my voice: I am ready, wherever and whenever you might strike. You can cut down the flower, but nothing can stop the coming of the spring.” ― Malalai Joya, Raising My Voice

I got this book at the fair price near the Chowrasta market, Penang. How I love that place because they sold books in a very reasonable price. However, since I read this book, I have deep admiration towards Malala Joya’s courage and boldness for speaking what is on her mind. She’s even willing to risk her life for championing women rights in Afghanistan. She is what I called the true figure of Afghanistan Heroine. It is truly lucky that she had educated father. Born into the war torn country, having an educated father is a blessing to her. She has not been denied her right to education like majority of Afghanistan girls had. Malalai Joya started being an activist at the young age.  Her family supported her dreams and understands that what Joya did is a proof of how much she loves her country. Even in Taliban Years at Afghanistan, She constantly travels to teach young girls so that they can read and continually have access to education. In this book, Joya does not try to sugarcoat or hide anything on what happened in Afghanistan. She told and exposed everything from the withdrawal of US force from Afghanistan, to the period when Hamid Karzai is appointed as a President and until now, where the majority of government’s minister and members of Parliament are part of warlords and religious extremists.

My Rating: 5/5
My Rating: 5/5

She often travel to overseas to speak about the plight and dilemma of her peoples and her country. She often invited to the talks and events to share her experience and to make her message came across clearly especially to other countries political leader. She talked about how comfort she is at the other country but she still thinking about her country. How many people spent times in the darkness due to no access of electricity and how many people fell sick because of lack of access on clean water. Her true love towards her country is reflected upon that. I know that no even once she mentioned she wanted to move to another country despite death threat made against her is increasing. She managed to escape so many times and would not give up easily.

It is truly a real eye opening story to me. A very young girl who dared to raise her voice in the Afghanistan’s Parliament criticizes majority of MPs who did not give a shit about people. They do not care about improving the rate of literacy, discarding the poverty and let alone in championing women rights and freedom. When Joya spoke boldly, she’s being scorned not by the fellow male MPs, but also by female MPs who Joya believes is just for display so that the world believes that the current government is on the path of instilling Democracy. She was banned for so many times from parliament due to so many complaints have been made against her.

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This is truly amazing book. Amazing because you can feel how honest Malalai Joya pours her feelings into the book. Amazing because how insightful she wrote this book based on the aspect of war, Afghanistan people, Democracy and her not yet achieved dreams and hopes.