Mitchell Zuckoff at the Cambridge Public Library


The Secret Gate:
A True Story of Courage and Sacrifice During the Collapse of Afghanistan

in conversation with HOMEIRA QADERI


May 10, 2023
6:00 PM ET
(Doors at 5:30)


Cambridge Public Library
449 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02138


$0.00 (Free RSVP Required) $31.00 (book-included)

Harvard Book Store welcomes MITCHELL ZUCKOFF—author of eight previous works of nonfiction, including 13 Hours, and a professor of journalism at Boston University—for a discussion of his new book The Secret Gate: A True Story of Courage and Sacrifice During the Collapse of Afghanistan. He will be joined in conversation by writer, activist, educator, and recipient of the Malalai Medal, HOMEIRA QADERI.

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About The Secret Gate

When the U.S. began its withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Afghan Army instantly collapsed, Homeira Qaderi was marked for death at the hands of the Taliban. A celebrated author, academic, and champion for women's liberation, Homeira had achieved celebrity in her home country by winning custody of her son in a contentious divorce, a rarity in Afghanistan's patriarchal society. As evacuation planes departed above, Homeira was caught in the turmoil at the Kabul Airport, trying and failing to secure escape for her and her eight-year-old son, Siawash, along with her parents and the rest of their family.

Meanwhile, a young American diplomat named Sam Aronson was enjoying a brief vacation between assignments when chaos descended upon Afghanistan. Sam immediately volunteered to join the skeleton team of remaining officials at Kabul Airport, frantically racing to help rescue the more than 100,000 stranded Americans and their Afghan helpers. When Sam learned that the CIA had established a secret entrance into the airport two miles away from the desperate crowds crushing toward the gates, he started bringing families directly through, personally rescuing as many as fifty-two people in a single day.

On the last day of the evacuation, Sam was contacted by Homeira's literary agent, who persuaded him to help her escape. He needed to risk his life to get them through the gate in the final hours before it closed forever. He borrowed night-vision goggles and enlisted a Dari-speaking colleague and two heavily armed security contract “shooters.” He contacted Homeira with a burner phone, and they used a flashlight code signal borrowed from boyhood summer camp. For her part, Homeira broke Sam’s rules and withstood his profanities. Together they braved gunfire by Afghan Army soldiers anxious about the restive crowds outside the airport. Ultimately, to enter the airport, Homeira and Siawash would have to leave behind their family and everything they had ever known.

The Secret Gate tells the thrilling, emotional tale of a young man's courage and a mother and son’s skin-of-the-teeth escape from a homeland that is no longer their own.

Praise for The Secret Gate

“An unforgettable account of a daring attempt to temper the brutality of war. It’s all here: the impossible moral choices, the desperation and the ingenuity, the courage to step in and help when most needed, the anguish of those who must uproot themselves and take the struggle for freedom to another shore. The Secret Gate is inspiring on every level.” —Robert Kolker, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Hidden Valley Road

“Mitchell Zuckoff’s meticulous recounting provides instructive glimpses into the chaotic end to America’s military engagement as well as the barbed trauma of being uprooted from home.” —Nadia Hashimi, internationally bestselling author of The Pearl That Broke Its Shell and Sparks Like Stars

“This riveting book has ‘major motion picture’ written all over it. A must read!” —Douglas Brinkley, New York Times bestselling author of Silent Spring Revolution and American Moonshot

“No one else but Mitchell Zuckoff could pull this diamond of a survivor’s tale from the rough chaos of the evacuation of Afghanistan. A harrowing true story of escape, perseverance, and courage under fire, told with a journalist’s eye and a novelist’s skill.” —Chuck Hogan, New York Times bestselling author of Gangland

Homeira Qaderi
Homeira Qaderi

Homeira Qaderi

Homeira Qaderi is an Afghan writer, activist, and educator. She has written seven books, including a collection of short stories, seven books for children, and her acclaimed novel Noqra: The Daughter of Kabul River (Rozgar Publishers, 2009). Before leaving Afghanistan, Qaderi taught at Gharjistan University, in Kabul, and worked in two different Afghan government administrations earlier as a senior advisor to the minister of labor, social affairs, martyrs, and the disabled, and more recently as senior advisor to the minister of education. Dr. Qaderi also served as Editor-in-chief of Rah-e Madaniyat newspaper in Kabul between 2019-2021. She is the Director of the Golden Needle Literary Association and Editor-in-chief, Ravi-e Zan. Qaderi received her Ph.D. in Persian literature from Jawaharlal Nehru University, in India. As a life-long activist and a staunch defender of women's rights, Homeira Qaderi was awarded the Malalai Medal—Afghanistan’s highest civilian honor—for exceptional bravery by the President of Afghanistan. She was a writer in residence at the University of Iowa in 2015. Her first book in English translation, Dancing in the Mosque: An Afghan Mother’s Letter to Her Son (Harper, 2020), was excerpted by the New York Times and chosen by Kirkus Reviews as one of the best nonfiction books of 2020.

Mitchell Zuckoff
Mitchell Zuckoff

Mitchell Zuckoff

Mitchell Zuckoff is the author of eight previous works of nonfiction, including the #1 New York Times bestseller 13 Hours, as well as Frozen in Time and Lost in Shangri-La. As a member of the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting. Zuckoff’s honors include the Livingston Award for International Reporting and the Winship/PEN New England Award for Nonfiction. He is a professor of journalism at Boston University.


Cambridge Public Library
449 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02138

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