University of Nebraska Press
Date of this Version
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.
© 2017 by Kevin McLean