Qais Akbar Omar on what gives him nightmares

05 December 2012

Qais Akbar Omar was born in 1982. He is a gifted linguist who trained as a journalist and as a translator for the US military and the UN. A Fort of Nine Towers, which will be published by Picador in June 2013, was written in English and will be translated all over the world. 

He's chosen some fantastic books as his favourites, but his answer to the question, 'What gives you nightmares?' casts everything else into the shadows.


2012: A year in books

What is your favourite book of the year?

The Essential Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks. 

What is your favourite Picador book ever? 

Steppenwolf, The Glass Bead Game, Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse

What is the book that was most neglected (fairly or unfairly)?

Shakespeare in Kabul by Stephen Landrigan & Qais Akbar Omar

What are you looking forward to reading most next year?

I go with the market flow. 

2012: everything else

What was your favourite cultural event of the year?

Eid, Thanksgiving, Naw Ruz. 

Who is your hero of the year?

No one, yet. 

Who is your villain of the year?

The Taliban and the Warlords in Afghanistan. 

What is your most powerful memory of the year?

Suicide bombers in Afghanistan and Pakistan, who I strongly believe are the enemy of humanity and Islam. 

What is your greatest disappointment of the year?

Not achieving what I wanted to achieve. 

What is your resolution for 2013?

To achieve what I want to achieve, and have fun doing it.

What was the best movie?

The Readers, Kingdom of Heaven, both teach us a good lesson. 

What was the best song/album?

Live at the Acropolis by Yanni. 

Give us one Prediction for 2013?

Very little will be changed in Afghanistan.  The situation will get worse.  As a result, the civilian who have been thirsting for peace all their lives will suffer more. 

What was your favourite book as a child?

One Thousand and one Nights, and reading Plato

What is the book you recommend most?

Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz.

What is your favourite poem?

"Come, come, whoever you are, wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving, 

it doesn’t matter—

Ours is not a caravan of despair, 

but one of endless joy. 

Even if you have broken your vows a hundred times—

Come, come, yet again, come!" Rumi.

Where do you write?

Anywhere.  All I need is a quiet place.   

Can you give one piece of advice to people wanting to become a writer?

Don't ask yourself hundreds of questions.  Just write.  Remember, the first draft is the hardest part.  But just do it, even if you have to write one line a day.  

Do you read on paper or ebook?


One book you have read more than once?

Selections from Plato's republic.  Persons in the Dialogue: Socrates, Glaucon, Adeimantus. Socrates is the narrator. The issue they are discussing is the nature and origin of justice.

Your worst ever job?

Working for United Nation Development Program (UNDP) in Kabul where nothing gets done. 

What gives you nightmares?

Things that I have seen during the years of war in Afghanistan, all my 30 years. Many of the things I experienced during the years of civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, and during the subsequent Taliban era, they all haunted me in my dreams. A dear friend, Stephen Landrigan, who is also my co-author of Shakespeare in Kabul, came to Afghanistan in 2004, working for USAID, suggested that by writing them down I might be able to put those nightmares to rest.

I followed his advice, and it took me two months to write almost everything 500+-page manuscript in English, a language I had taught myself. The reason I wrote them in English, is because I don't have a lot of sentimental attachment to it as I do with my mother tongue, Dari and Pashto. It made is easier to write. Now it is turned into a book, A Fort of Nine Towers. He was right, I don't get haunted by those nightmares in my dreams. It helped, but they are still there. 

What is your favourite party in literature?

Still waiting. 

What is the best party you have ever attended?

Still waiting. 



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