A Western writer affectingly takes up the voice of a beleaguered Afghan man and his harrowing flight out of his war-torn country.
McLean assumes the first-person point of view of Baryalai Popal, an Afghan refugee who is now an American citizen. Popal, who hails from one of two “royal families” of Afghanistan, was forced to flee the country with the invasion of the Soviets in 1980 because of his deep family ties. McLean moves back and forth in time to tell Popal’s story, from his perilous flight out of Kabul in October 1980, when the Soviet police were searching his home for him, through an arduous journey into Pakistan and eventual flight out of Karachi to Turkey, and then Germany, where he was able to claim asylum and bring his wife and children, thanks to help from the American consulate. Through the story of Popal, a shortening of the family name Popalzai, the historic enemy of the Barakzai, McLean weaves a fascinating story about family and tribal ties within a culture used to being overrun by foreigners (British, Russian, American) and marked by ongoing traditions that mark loyalty to family, such as hospitality to foreigners. Popal’s father, Abdul Rahman Popal, studied in Paris in the 1920s at the dictates of the modernizing King Amanullah and Gen. Nadir. He was subsequently summoned to serve in many advisory roles, as leaders changed sides depending on the way the political wind was blowing. As a result, Popal the son could rely on many extended friends and acquaintances in his flight to Pakistan, although he largely depended on his wits to survive. Ultimately, the book delineates a sense of what it means to hail from a proud Afghan family in the throes of violence.
Details of Afghan tribal life and family well-delineated.