A Memoir of Fear and Kindness in Afghanistan

“A book of outstanding quality” Publishers Weekly/Booklife Editor’s Pick

What happens when a regular person accidentally finds themselves lost in the middle of a war?

In 1991, BBC journalist Chris Woolf traveled to Afghanistan. The government in Kabul was fighting for survival, after the withdrawal of its superpower patron; in this case, the Soviet Union. The parallels to today are extraordinary.

Woolf was visiting a colleague to see what the life of a foreign correspondent was like. They hitched a ride with an aid convoy and bumbled straight into the war. They kept going, despite the horror and terror. There was no choice.

Amid the darkness, Woolf discovered the generosity and hospitality of ordinary Afghans.

They became the first journalists to pass through the battle lines from Kabul to meet legendary warlord Ahmed Shah Massoud, and even Soviet POW/MIAs.

Woolf shares an intimate portrait of first encounters with death and real fear. He explores the lingering effects of trauma, and explains how he put his experience to good use.

He introduces readers to just enough of Afghanistan’s history, geography, culture and politics for readers to hopefully understand what’s going on around him.  He also makes a few comparisons and contrasts between the situation in Afghanistan then and now.


About The Author 

Chris Woolf was a broadcast journalist with the BBC World Service for 34 years. He worked in London, Afghanistan, Malawi, Mozambique, but mostly in the United States, where he became News Editor for public radio’s main international news show, “The World.” He was also on-air for many years as the show’s “History Guy”

In addition to writing, Woolf is Chief Operating Officer of a professional voiceover company, The Voice Depot. In his spare time, he researches and writes history, and explores family history. His passion is seeking the truth, whether in journalism, history or genealogy.

He served in the UK’s Territorial Army as an infantry soldier during the Cold War. He now lives in the United States.

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Chris Woolf: Then, and now

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About The Book

“Bumbling Through the Hindu Kush” is the true story of a young journalist’s coming of age in a brutally hostile environment: war in Afghanistan.

It’s an adventure story. It’s a voyage of discovery, where you can learn about Afghanistan. It’s also a story about coping with trauma. We hope you find it a positive one.

“Bumbling” falls between the categories of narrative non-fiction, history and memoir.

You could find the book in memoir/biography, travel, history, military history.

You might find it alongside “I Was Told to Come Alone” by Souad Mekhennet, “An Unexpected Light” by Jason Elliott, or “A Fort of Nine Towers” by Qais Akbar Omar.


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Readers Thoughts

Woolf’s memoir details his brief trip as a young journalist through the uncertain Afghanistan of the early 1990s, after the Soviets had withdrawn and before the Taliban had taken over. He recounts seeing death all around, striking out at random, interspersed with a beautiful countryside and welcoming, hospitable people. This two week long excursion left him with nightmares, and Woolf masterfully conveys some of how that felt. Woolf tells his story as primarily one of trauma—his own trauma admittedly brief in comparison with that of those living in the war zone but nonetheless real.

Early in his reporting career, Woolf had considered serving as a foreign correspondent, so when the chance came to visit the BBC’s correspondent in Afghanistan and see what the job actually entailed, he took it, trusting that his experience in the army and in stressful situations would prepare him for what he faced. In his journey into Kabul, taking part in a caravan traveling to the rebel-held north of the country, and leaving the country after his visa expired, he was shot at, under artillery attack and nearly stranded on the wrong side of a pass when winter made it impassable. In between all of that, he also managed to take the photos which ably illustrate the text, and interview a Russian prisoner who converted to Islam and joined the Afghan forces.
Woolf is both gripping as he relates these tense stories and humble in his reflection on the heroism of the Afghans and various international aid workers and journalists he met. He describes many more unforgettable incidents than you might expect given the brief length of his time in the country. Readers looking for an exciting memoir about travel through Afghanistan or a look at how the trauma of continued danger can weigh on someone will find this a satisfying read.
Takeaway: Fans of travelogues or war stories, particularly of Afghanistan, will find this memoir compelling.

Booklife Magazine

from Publishers Weekly

An important memoir. Historically significant. A compelling page-turner. Emotionally brave. It’s an on-the-ground scene-setter from waning days of Afghanistan’s communist-backed regime. What’s unique about Woolf’s story is his military and journalist background gave him enough expertise to undertake a journey to Afghanistan in the waning days of the communist-backed government, while simultaneously being naive enough to undertake a journey to Afghanistan in the waning days of communist-backed government! What results is an endearing candor, and the courage to reveal his resulting trauma from the experience 30 years later.

What’s relevant about his story today is that September 11, 2001 exists within the middle of a complex history that began long before that tragic day. The journalist in Woolf shares relevant background into the region, but he also unveils his growing fear and anxiety as he “bumbles” through an active war zone when he gets the opportunity to take a “road trip” on a UN humanitarian aid mission.
This book is equal parts a multifaceted Afghanistan history offering valuable insight to the country’s status today, a ride-along adventure story from Kabul up and through the mountain range called the Hindu Kush, and candid personal history. What’s more, Woolf is donating a portion of the book’s proceeds to benefit disabled children in Afghanistan, and a non-profit clearing landmines from Afghanistan and locations worldwide. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Michelle Redo

host of the Daring to Tell podcast 

Published on GoodReads, 11 Sep 2021 

I was fortunate to be asked to read this terrific memoir ahead of publication. I will admit to knowing very little about this period in Afghanistan’s history and so I was fascinated by Chris Woolf’s account of his journey behind the battle lines in 1991. The memoir is as well-written as you would expect from a BBC journalist and it strikes the right balance between fleshing out Chris’s back story alongside the tale of his dramatic, enthralling and frankly harrowing time in the wild lands of Afghanistan. The account does a terrific job of bringing Chris’s journey to life whilst conveying the shock and effect of having to deal with real fear and genuine danger. As a journalist, Chris is not a conventional veteran and I think this is one of the book’s greatest strengths in that is offers a unique viewpoint and insight into the situations he faces. Highly recommended.

Paul Fraser Collard

author of historical fiction, including the Jack Lark series.

Published on Goodreads, 1 Sep 2021

Combat can feel like the ant on an elephant’s tail: overwhelmed and along for the ride. Chris Woolf’s memoir of his ten days in late-1991 “bumbling” into the war in Afghanistan is just such an up-and-down tale, with the momentary highs and gut-crushing lows common to combat. When the teenage goat herder fires his AK-47 in the first few pages – you’ll know how that ant feels, just holding on, exhilarated, terrified, never really knowing what comes next.

Lt-Col ML Cavanaugh
US Army

Senior Fellow, Modern War Institute at West Point; lead writer and co-editor, “Strategy Strikes Back: How Star Wars Explains Modern Military Conflict.”

Bumbling Through the Hindu Kush is at once gripping, informative, suspenseful, and at times it reads like a thriller.

Qais Akbar Omar

A Fort of Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story

Chris Woolf has written a truly personal tale that is both gripping and historically significant for the war between the Soviet-backed government and Mujahedin in Afghanistan. His mix of personal, cultural, and wartime reflections make this a story well worth the time of Afghanistan aficionados and casual readers alike.

Dr Jonathan Schroden

former senior adviser to the US military’s Central Command, and to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan

We Are Donating a Portion of our Book Sales

You can help too!

The Enabled Children Initiative 

The Enabled Children Initiative (ECI) supports children in Afghanistan with disabilities with residential, educational and income generation support for families.

learn more
The Halo Trust

The Halo Trust

Explosive hazards threaten lives and prevent critical humanitarian assistance. Help support life-saving demining programs and give for a landmine free future.

learn more

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