Happy Book Birthday to Crossing the River Kabul


Book Birthdays celebrate one year of a book’s life in tweets, reviews, and more. This month we’re saying Happy First Book Birthday to Crossing the River Kabul: An Afghan Family Odyssey (Potomac Books, 2017) by Kevin McLean. McLean practiced law in Boston and San Diego. 


About the book:

McLean-River Kabul.inddBaryalai 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.



“A Western writer affectingly takes up the voice of a beleaguered Afghan man and his harrowing flight out of his war-torn country.” —Kirkus

“McLean writes from Popal’s perspective, delivering a convincing first-person narrative attuned to local speech . . . The book gives a keen sense of Afghanistan’s volatile history throughout the twentieth century and up to the present.” —Foreword Reviews

“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.” —The Middle East Journal

“…a solid offering, especially in terms of the rich historical and political details it provides.” —New York Journal of Books


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