[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.

Book Review: The Cypress Tree by Kamin Mohammadi

By The Gorgeous Palah Chingu

My Rating: 4/5
My Rating: 4/5

We Iranians are like the cypress tree. We may bend and bend on the wind but we will never break’ 

I bought this book last year and I only got a chance to read it this year. Why I took so long to read, I don’t even know. Maybe it does not have an appealing cover like some middle-eastern non-fiction books like a piercing stare by a young girl who wore a burqa or a war image captured by some famous journalist.  Iran, in my opinion, is a truly country that makes you wonder and ponder. This country is formed from an empire of great Persia to the reign of Shah, then it has been handed to Khomeini and it changed into the Islamic Republic of Iran until now. This book featured an interesting perspective from a refugee who just returned to her own country where she used to call it home once.

I read some of the books about Iran like Persepolis, not without my daughter and so many more. However, this one struck in my mind a bit longer. Kamin told a tale about her big family but in the same time, she poured her heart out to her beloved country. She returned to Iran after a long time and sudden regret bloomed from her heart for not preserving her own culture and tradition in her foreign country. The language for this book is quite simple actually. When the language is not so difficult to understand, you connected with the author much quicker than you thought.

From the event of how her grandfather and her grandmother get married, how her mother standing up to her conservative father to avoid from being married off and even got a chance to further in higher education and work in a management level in some company until to the event of Shah Downfall in Iran and How Khomeini stated ‘He felt nothing’ when people asked how he felt right after he returned to Iran. I could connect with Kamin because she wrote the Iran history in a view of a person who yearn a freedom and peace for her country. She looked back into her childhood and teenage hood where she learned many things from her uncles, aunties, cousins and even her grandmother. She pointed out how the Iranian revolution somehow turned many things upside down including breaking many relations through betrayals and how many deaths she encountered during the event.

Kamin also vividly narrated the experience of leaving Iran and seeking a refuge in England somehow changed and altered her behavior but failed to change her parents. Her parents still continuing living in England like how they live in Iran but with a different community. Since they are no longer with a big family, gatherings will be attended by an Iranian community who’s faced the similar fate of fled from the country. Kamin confessed how her teen- rebellious phase forcing her to abandon Farsi, her language that she spoke everyday at Iran into a thick accent of English in England. Little did she know it will show how she made a bad choice when she barely able speaks that language when she returned to Iran.

I have no criticism on the book as I always enjoyed reading non-fiction books. I love reading about people lives, tragedy, experience, difficulty or any events that changed the idea of living their life. I find it very gutsy and me myself hoping I could able to do that someday. I wish Kamin did put an assemblage of her family photos in the book so that readers could see it. If you wanted to know about Iran’s history but does not want to read a thick book with a very small letter, this book might do you good.

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

by the gorgeous Palah Chingu


“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.


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.

Stuart: A Life Backwards (2007)

By The Gorgeous Palah Chingu


Where do I start is the question that come across my mind first after watching this film. There’s a mixed reaction on this film that i felt and I somehow couldn’t get it off my head. I was angry, betrayed, sad and depressed all at once. I felt it all right in my chest.

Tom Hardy as Stuart Shorter

Stuart is a homeless person. He met Alexander in one of the meeting for the homeless person. Let’s just say that meeting created the friendship between them. I was not convinced how Tom Hardy can pull off the homeless look. I mean, He’s a stud. He’s charming in his own way. That’s where he proved me wrong. He portrayed the character so effortlessly. You can feel the emotion, you feel empathy and somehow, you could blame the world for turning him into who he is in this movie. I wasn’t planning to watch this film any time soon. Believe me, last thing I want was tears on my face and post-effect after watching this kind of film.

Stuart has been abused by his own brother for 3 years. His brother sometimes brought friend to join him in the act. At the age of 9, Stuart lost his innocence. I can’t stand the abuse especially when it involves kids. I don’t like kids personally, but nobody deserved to be treated like Stuart had for 3 years. It was inhumane, cruel and evil. The most shocking truth is that his own brother, to whom Stuart put his trust, was the one who violated him. There are a series of awfully unspeakable thing that happened to him. He finally lost it and went on rampage, demanding that his mother put him in the children’s care.

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Alexander and stuart

I always wonder when this thing occurred to kids, what did they do to deserve this? Sure, they can be annoying as hell and sometimes could be irritating, but a few punishments are more than adequate. Being sexually abused for years really flipped people in a way that ordinary people can’t fathom. After being put into the children’s care, he was not exactly saved either. He was abused (once again) by the pedophile in the care. I cried. I really cried my heart out when Stuart confessed in the tape that he was abused when he was 9 years old and stated that he never understand how could people inflicted harm on him.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Alexander Masters

Alexander, on the other hand, has no interest in working for homeless shelter. He told Stuart he only did it because the pay was good. However, the more he spends time with Stuart, the more he wanted to know about him. He told Stuart he wanted to write about Stuart and it was Stuart’s idea to write a biography about him but in backwards style. It was to appeal the readers. Benedict Cumberbatch was never a disappointing actor. He played as Alexander Masters, the one who wrote the biography of Stuart shorter. He discovered what really happened to Stuart after listening to the recording tapes that given by Stuart and a series of interview by his own family’s members. In the beginning of the film, you can see how Alexander felt disgusted and even felt uncomfortable to be around Stuart. What can you expect? I bet we all would feel the same way. He changed afterwards. He’s accompanied Stuart everywhere and so used to his present around him.

However, right after the draft of book finished, Stuart committed suicide in front of the train. Alexander told that he was not sure why Stuart did it. I don’t blame him for taking away his life. Sure, there a lot of people can say that they can help, gives support and everything but in the end, the one who felt it is the victim. How can you take the misery, pain, hatred that they felt right after they experienced the abuse? Nobody can. The only comfort I had after watching this film was the perpetrator; the Stuart brother’s committed suicide. I don’t know why he did it, but I’m glad he did.

The book written by Alexander Masters:

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