Crossing the River Kabul


Crossing the River Kabul

An Afghan Family Odyssey

Kevin McLean

256 pages
12 illustrations, 2 maps


June 2017


$29.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

June 2017


$29.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

June 2017


$29.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

Baryalai Popal sees his Western-educated professors at Kabul University replaced by communists. He witnesses his classmates “disappearing.” The communist takeover uproots Popal from his family and home. Thus begins Crossing the River Kabul, the true story of Popal’s escape from Afghanistan and his eventual return.

Kevin McLean weaves together Popal’s stories in this memoir, which is also a fascinating look at Afghanistan from the viewpoint of Popal and generations of his politically influential family. From the exile of Popal’s grandfather from Kandahar in 1898 to his father’s tutoring of two boys who as adults would play important roles in Afghanistan—one as king and the other as president—to his uncle’s presence at the fateful meeting that led to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Popal’s family history is intertwined with that of his nation.

Popal fled his country following the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1980. After being imprisoned as a spy in Pakistan, he managed to make his way to Germany as a refugee and to the United States as an immigrant. Twenty years later he returned to Afghanistan after 9/11 to reclaim his houses, only to find one controlled by drug lords and the other by the most powerful warlord in Afghanistan.

Popal’s memoir is an intimate, often humorous portrait of the vanished Afghanistan of his childhood. It is also the story of a father whose greatest desire is to see his son follow in his footsteps, and a son who constantly rebels against his father's wishes. Crossing the River Kabul is a story of choice and destiny, fear and courage, and loss and redemption.

Author Bio

Kevin McLean practiced law in Boston and San Diego. 


"[Crossing the River Kabul] delineates a sense of what it means to hail from a proud Afghan family in the throes of violence."—Kirkus

"A solid offering."—Saadia Faruqi, New York Journal of Books

"Crossing the River Kabul tells Popal's epic life story in his own voice. It blends family anecdotes with personal and political history to form a readable and informative account of a turbulent phase of Afghan history through the eyes of a man who, as a descendent of one of Afghanistan's two historical ruling families, is well positioned to reflect on the political upheaval and war that have wracked his homeland."—Daniela Pioppi, Middle East Journal

“Baryalai Popal’s personal story is a poignant microcosm of the beauty and tragedy of Afghanistan.”—Ronald E. Neumann, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan

“A fascinating, moving, and highly readable story. We learn much about Afghan family, tribal, and cultural values—as kings, presidents, ministers, and warlords all make their way through these pages.”—Tim Foxley, former Afghanistan senior analyst for the UK Ministry of Defense

Crossing the River Kabul is full of exceptionally interesting stories not found in historical accounts. Afghans and non-Afghans alike will find it gripping reading.”—Nabi Misdaq, broadcast journalist with the BBC World Service and author of Afghanistan: Political Frailty and External Interference 

“An exciting tale, as current today as it was in 1980 when Bar Popal and his family fled Afghanistan, Crossing the River Kabul is a harrowing adventure with life and death consequences explaining the tribulations experienced by refugees. While following one family, this book puts a human face on the harsh realities and complexities of those millions of people who flee the destruction of their homelands. It should be read by every compassionate person who contemplates the plight of refugees.” —John B. Alexander, former U.S. Army colonel and advisor to senior ministry officials in Kabul

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations    
Author’s Note    
1. Kabul Airport, Afghanistan, October 1980: Flight    
2. Jalalabad, Afghanistan, October 1980: Behsood Bridge    
3. Abdien, Afghanistan, October 1980: Nasir    
4. Somewhere near the Afghanistan-Pakistan Border, October 1980: Minefield    
5. Afghanistan    
6. Kabul, Afghanistan, 1919: General Nadir    
7. Paris, France, 1920: Hélène    
8. Kabul, Afghanistan, 1929: Nadir Shah    
9. Kabul, Afghanistan, 1933: Zahir Shah    
10. Kabul, Afghanistan, 1934: Tajwar    
11. Kabul, Afghanistan, 1953: Pashtunistan    
12. Faizabad, Afghanistan, 1955: Badakhshan    
13. Kabul, Afghanistan, 1959: Baba Naeem    
14. Kabul, Afghanistan, 1961: Kite Flying    
15. Kabul, Afghanistan, 1962: The New Great Game    
16. Kabul, Afghanistan, 1963: The King Acts    
17. Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Winter 1963: Duck Hunting    
18. A Farm North of Kabul, Afghanistan, 1964: Buzkashi    
19. Kabul, Afghanistan, 1965: Lessons    
20. Ghazni, Afghanistan, 1967: Sia        
21. Kabul, Afghanistan, 1967: The Mystic    
22. Kabul, Afghanistan, 1967: Basketball    
23. Jalalabad, Afghanistan, 1969: Afsana    
24. Kabul, Afghanistan, 1970: A Turkish Bride    
25. Jalalabad, Afghanistan, 1971: Daoud    
26. Bombay, India, 1973: The Wind        
27. Kabul, Afghanistan, April 1973: Coup d’État    
28. Kabul, Afghanistan, 1974: Sitar Lessons    
29. Paghman, Afghanistan, 1974: Japan    
30. Moscow, USSR, 1977: Daoud and Brezhnev    
31. Kabul, Afghanistan, April 1978: Daoud Is Overthrown    
32. Kabul, Afghanistan, 1978: Professor Wazir    
33. Kabul University, December 1978: The Final Exam    
34. Kabul Afghanistan, 1979: Hiding    
35. Kabul Afghanistan, 1980: Pol-i-Charki Prison    
36. Kabul, Afghanistan, 1980: Kandahari    
37. Kabul, Afghanistan, October 1980: Exodus    
38. Back in the Minefield    
39. Landi Kotal, Pakistan, 1980: Prison    
40. Landi Kotal, Pakistan, 1980: Connections    
41. Peshawar, Pakistan, 1980: Pir Gailani    
42. Peshawar, Pakistan, 1980: Hazrat Sepgotolah    
43. Peshawar, Pakistan, 1980: The United Nations Humanitarian Aid Office    
44. Afghanistan, Somewhere near the Pakistan Border, 1980: Mujahideen    
45. Karachi, Pakistan, 1981: Train Ride    
46. Ankara, Turkey, 1981: Shoeshine    
47. Istanbul, Turkey, 1981: U.S. Consulate    
48. U.S. Consulate, Istanbul, 1981: Hazaras    
49. Frankfurt, Germany, 1981: The Parcel    
50. Frankfurt, Germany, 1981: The Interview    
51. Frankfurt, Germany, 1989: Warlords    
52. San Diego, California, 1992: SpeeDee Oil    
53. Kabul, Afghanistan, 1995: The Taliban    
54. New York City: September 11, 2011    
55. Kabul, Afghanistan, 2002: The Dance of the Dead    
56. Kabul, Afghanistan, 2002: Karta-i-Char    
57. Kabul, Afghanistan, 2002: The Gate    
58. Kabul, Afghanistan, 2002: Ghosts    
59. Jalalabad, Afghanistan, 2002: Hazrat Ali    
60. Kabul, Afghanistan, 2002: The Cemetery    
61. Kabul, Afghanistan, 2002: Money    
62. San Diego, California, July 4, 2002: Citizens    
63. Kabul, Afghanistan, 2003: Number 3    
64. Kabul, Afghanistan, 2003: Rebuilding    
65. Kabul, Afghanistan, 2004: Orders    
66. Jalalabad, Afghanistan, 2004: Din Mohammad    
67. Jalalabad, Afghanistan, 2004: Hazrat Ali    
68. Office of the Governor of Jalalabad, 2004: Gul Agha Sherzai    
69. Jalalabad, Afghanistan 2004: Hadji Jawid    
70. Security Headquarters, Jalalabad, Afghanistan, 2004: The Gardener    
71. Abdien, Afghanistan, 2004: The Funeral    
72. Compound of Hazrat Ali, Afghanistan, 2004: Jirga    
73. Jalalabad, Afghanistan, 2005: The King’s Arabians    
74. Karta-i-Char, Kabul, Afghanistan 2008: Rasoul    

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