The incredible true story of a breathtaking rescue in the frenzied final hours of the U.S. evacuation of Afghanistan—and how a brave Afghan mother and a compassionate American officer engineered a daring escape—from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of 13 Hours
“Reads like a thriller . . . The Secret Gate is a fast-paced escape narrative, but it is also a morally complex interrogation.”—The Washington Post
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.
About the Author
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’sSpotlight 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.
“Reads like a thriller . . . Zuckoff does a remarkable job not only of describing the chaos and confusion at Kabul airport, but also of framing the fraught choices faced by Afghans and Americans alike. The Secret Gate describes, in compelling detail, the excruciating decisions faced by members of the diplomatic corps and military as they decided who to evacuate and who to leave behind; however, the book doesn’t fall into the trap of allowing the American narrative to subsume the Afghan one. [It] is a fast-paced escape narrative, but it is also a morally complex interrogation of Homeira’s wrenching choice.”—The Washington Post
“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
“A triumph of narrative nonfiction. Mitchell Zuckoff reveals the chaos of the U.S. departure from Afghanistan with pulse-pounding urgency and heartrending insight.”—Karen Abbott, New York Times bestselling author of The Ghosts of Eden Park
“Mitchell Zuckoff has located a genuinely thrilling tale, told with style, grace, and empathy. The Secret Gate will get your blood pumping.”—Hampton Sides, New York Times bestselling author of Ghost Soldiers and On Desperate Ground