A rope and a prayer A kidnapping from two sides

David Rohde, 1967-

Book - 2010

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Location Call Number   Status
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New York, N.Y. : Viking 2010.
Main Author
David Rohde, 1967- (-)
Other Authors
Kristen Mulvihill (-)
Physical Description
xvii, 362 p. : map ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Acknowledgments
  • Principal Characters, Organizations, and Places-Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • Principal Characters and Organizations-New York
  • Authors' Note
  • Chronology
  • Map
  • A Blood Message To Obama
  • ôFun Fearless Femaleö
  • Millions
  • Crash Course
  • The Emirate
  • The Taliban Call Collect
  • All Three of Us
  • Human Resources
  • Speak Good Words to An Enemy
  • Video Games
  • Futility
  • Multitasking
  • The Taliban Trust The Red Cross
  • Love Letters
  • Words and Pictures
  • A French Street Gang
  • Are You There?
  • My Funny Valentine
  • Golden Chance
  • Midnight
  • Gift From God
  • Peace Be Upon You
  • An Alternate Universe
  • A Goat Will Never Be a Cow
  • Birthday Wishes
  • Greeting Cards for The Mujahideen
  • A Stone Will Not Become Soft
  • The Girl With The Sad Story
  • Lies
  • Home Movies
  • Pashtunwali
  • Answered Prayers
  • The Glorious Islam
  • Gratitude
  • Intelligence
  • Feed The Beast
  • Return
  • Reunion
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index
Review by New York Times Review

AFTER the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Rohde says, he considered joining the military or becoming a paramedic. Instead, he was thrilled to be dispatched by his editors at The New York Times to Afghanistan, to cover the fighting there. "Like other foreigners," he writes, "I was beguiled by Afghans." Seven years later, at 41, perhaps looking at middle age and wondering where his years of peregrinations in war-torn countries might lead him, Rohde decided to return to Afghanistan for several last interviews to finish a book "about the failing American attempt to bring stability to the region since 2001." "I increasingly worried I was becoming a New York-based journalistic fraud whose book would be superficial and out-of-date," he says in "A Rope and a Prayer: A Kidnapping From Two Sides," written with Kristen Mulvihill. "I felt I had fallen behind reporters based in the region." Two months earlier, he had married Mulvihill, a spirited painter and photo editor at Cosmopolitan magazine. Rohde sets out on Nov. 10, 2008, to interview a Taliban commander, an interview he thinks is essential to the success and importance of his book. Yet he feels some trepidation about the interview, arranged for him by an Afghan journalist named Tahir Luddin. He consults other colleagues in Kabul and gets mixed signals: go, don't go. He decides to go, but neglects to inform Mulvihill of his plans, fearing that she will ask him to cancel them and that he will have to accede to her wishes. Like teenagers in a horror movie, the reader wants to yell, "No, don't go!" Rohde climbs into a car in Kabul with Luddin for an hour's drive south to the village of Pul-e-Alam, in Logar Province, to meet a Taliban commander known as Abu Tayyeb. Luddin has arranged such meetings before for journalists, and they have gone off without a hitch. At the wheel is Asad Mangal, their young driver. As the story commences, and it does very rapidly with aplomb, you know that Rohde is headed for nothing but trouble. The kidnapping seems to happen in slow motion. Like so many terrible things involving gunfire and combat, it appears to be at once inevitable and totally surreal. When they get to the meeting point, Abu Tayyeb isn't there, so they call him: "He asks what kind of car we are driving, instructs us to drive down the road another mile, and meet his men there. Asad accelerates down the road. About 30 seconds later, our car swerves to the right and abruptly comes to a halt. "I look up. Two bearded Afghan men carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles run toward us shouting commands in Pashto, the local language. Behind them, a car is blocking the road. . . . "One of the gunmen gets behind the wheel of our car and drives down the road. The other sits in the front passenger seat and trains his rifle on us." Rohde and his companions have just been kidnapped by Taliban militants affiliated with the Haqqani clan, an organized criminal element in Afghanistan working alongside Taliban and Qaeda fighters. Rohde, who was once arrested while covering the war in Bosnia, fears he "will be mocked by my peers as a two-time kidnap victim with a judgment problem." He deserves praise for his honesty. "An interview that seemed crucial hours ago," he writes, "now seems absurd and reckless." When his kidnappers learn he is an American, they are happy indeed. "They say they are going to send a blood message to Obama," Luddin explains. Rohde points out that his travels have become a source of tension in his new marriage, and that Mulvihill has asked him to keep his trips abroad to three weeks in length. He has already extended this trip by an extra week "after landing an interview with Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai." This meant that Rohde would not be back in the united States in time for a weekend trip he had planned to make with Mulvihill, his father and his stepmother. I like this detail, this sprinkling of the mundane into what will eventually become national, and global, news. If only he had wanted to go on that family trip more than he'd wanted his interview with Karzai, Rohde wouldn't have been kidnapped. In this regard, Rohde and Mulvihill have written a book that is as much about work and marriage, and a clash between one's private dreams and public responsibilities, as it is about the world's most pressing geopolitical problems. The authors take turns recounting the ordeal, in alternating chapters, and while at times this "he said, she said" conceit can result in slight repetitions, the inclusion of both points of view is a masterstroke, making the book a love story as well as a political drama. Shortly after learning of Rohde's kidnapping, Mulvihill is ushered into a meeting at the Times Building, where she feels as if "I've stepped into a New Yorker cartoon but I'm not quite sure of the punch line." The paper "will honor our family's wish to keep David's case out of the press. . . . We think, as the F.B.I. cautioned us, that publicity will only increase David's value as a hostage. And we know that David would not want to be the subject of a news story." This is a thorny issue Mulvihill raises. In an age when the Internet and instant communications - the ability to pass information, true or not, over vast distances in seconds to millions of people - have become primary enablers of violence and mayhem, you are inclined to sympathize with her request, and with The Times's agreeing to it. Rohde's captors are by turns petulant, intimidating, incompetent and stingy. He is forced to watch jihadi videos that resemble "grimly repetitive snuff films." The guards begin playing a video recording of Piotr Stanczak, a Polish geologist who was kidnapped in September 2008. They are sadistically amused when Rohde realizes that this is the video of Stanczak's beheading. He rushes from the room, refusing to watch. At one point, after Rohde has become extremely frustrated with the slowness of his captors to reach a deal for his release, he makes himself vomit, hoping his apparent illness will prey upon their sense of Pashtunwali, a code demanding that a guest, even a kidnapped one, be well taken care of. The ruse doesn't work; he becomes the chattel of his captors. He loses weight, sinks into depression and, to this point not a particularly religious man, begins praying. His infantilized life - he beds down each night with a pink Barbie comforter - has shrunk to a pinpoint of hope that he will simply survive another day of captivity. He decides to fake a suicide attempt, pretending that he's trying to hang himself. "I want to show our captors that we will not wait forever for an agreement," he says. The plan backfires miserably, prompting his captors to keep an even closer, more punitive eye on him. Finally, fearing that their detention will go on forever, on June 20, 2009, 7 months and 10 days after their capture, Rohde and Luddin decide to escape. Using a rope Rohde has secreted away for the occasion, they lower themselves over the wall of the compound and, with Luddin leading the way, start walking in what they hope is the direction of a nearby Pakistani military base. "I have no idea if he knows where we are going," Rohde says. "Suddenly, shouts erupt to our left and I hear the sound of a Kalashnikov being loaded. Tahir raises his hands and says something in Pashto. . . . 'If you move,' Tahir says, 'they will shoot us.' Then he says words I can scarcely believe. 'This is the base.' We have made it to the Pakistanis." In the end, the captivity has a profound effect on Rohde: "My feelings toward my captors are fluid. Most of the time, I rarely think of them. At times, I despise them again for what they did to our families and us. I, of course, am guilty of the sins of selfishness, recklessness and ambition. Tahir and I spent hours in captivity talking about how we had wronged our families by going to the interview and been punished for it. During my flight back to the United States, I wrote down three things as Kristen sat next to me. 'This world is fleeting,' 'I had my chance' and 'Now everyone else first.' Since I have returned home I try harder to live by those principles. Sometimes I succeed. Often, I do not." The book also offers an engaging and perceptive explanation of what has gone wrong in Afghanistan since 2001, and what might go right as President Obama stares at his July 2011 deadline to begin withdrawing the 100,000 troops deployed there. "A Rope and a Prayer" should be required reading for anyone who is a fan of Steve Coll's "Ghost Wars," Rory Stewart's "Places In Between" or Ahmed Rashid's "Taliban" - that is, for anyone who wants to understand the complicated relationships among the Taliban, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States. Along the way, there's a dramatic dose of the risks journalists take to write books and articles that transcend the usual punditry about what we have done or should have done in places like Afghanistan. David Rohde's captors forced him to watch jihadi videos that resembled 'grimly repetitive snuff films.' Doug Stanton, founder of the National Writers Series, a book festival, is the author of "Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan."

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [December 26, 2010]
Review by Booklist Review

New York Times reporter Rohde writes about his ordeal as a hostage of the Taliban, after he was kidnapped in Afghanistan in November 2008. Rohde covered most of this story in a five-part series in the New York Times, available online. The new element here is the juxtaposition of his narrative with that of his wife's, Kristen Mulvihill, who describes her own agony and quest to have Rohde freed. Even though the pieces are in place for a thrilling account from both parties, the writing on Mulvihill's part feels flat and predictable. This may be because, as with the accounts of the Daniel Pearl tragedy from his wife's perspective, we already know the outcome. Rohde's portion is by far the most readable. His accounts of the difficulties of reporting from this danger-pocked landscape and his descriptions of his second-guessing himself about his reporting choices are especially compelling.--Fletcher, Connie Copyright 2010 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

For a harrowing seven months of captivity, Rohde, a Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times foreign correspondent on assignment in war-torn Afghanistan, survived after being kidnapped, with two Afghan colleagues, by the Taliban in November 2008, suffering from all of the cruel terrorist maneuvering and hapless government countermoves during the crisis. Rohde wrote a series of articles for the Times about his experiences, but here Rohde alternates chapters with Mulvihill, to whom he had been married for two months at the time of his kidnapping. In suspenseful prose, he recounts his abduction and she describes her efforts, along with those of the Times, to secure his release by writing everyone in government and negotiating with the Taliban. Rohde's escape, with one of his colleagues, received major media coverage. Possibly the most informative segments of the book are the masterly observations of life with the jihadists, the chaotic Pakistani tribal areas and the topsy-turvy war itself. This potent story of love and conflict ends well, but not without making some smart and edgy commentary on terrorism, hostage negotiation, political agendas, and the human heart. Map. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review

From a New York Times journalist and his wife, a blow-by-blow chronicle of his kidnapping in Afghanistan in November 2008 by the Taliban, hisseven months of captivity and eventual escape.Pursuing an interview with a Taliban commander for a book he was writing about the American effort in Afghanistan, Pulitzer Prizewinning reporter Rohde made an imprudent arrangement to meet the leader outside of Kabul and was kidnapped, along with an Afghan journalist, Tahir Luddin, and their driver, Asad Mangal. Kidnappings were not uncommon, and in his rush to get a good story, Rohde recognized that he had put Tahir and Asad at a huge risk. Moreover, he was recently married. His wife, photo and fashion editor Mulvihill, took over the ransom negotiations in New York, quietly advised by Rohde's brother Lee, representatives at the Times, the FBI, an outside security firm (American International Security Corporation) and numerous ex-hostages and their families. In alternating chapters, husband and wife chronicle their parallel ordeals. Rohde and the two other hostages were moved to remote tribal areas in Miran Shah, the so-called Pashtun belt making up the intractable border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban and al-Qaeda maintain their training camps. The men cooked, cleaned and prayed, wiling away the time discussing religion and playing Checkah [sic] with their captors. The couple spoke rarely over carefully monitored phone calls, and the Taliban sent several alarming videos. The kidnappers wanted millions for the hostages, as well as an exchange of prisoners, but no one could agree to terms over the ensuing months. Rohde and Tahir's escape in June 2009 was truly remarkable and bold, and his unique take on the hard-line Islamist movement provides many astute observations.A painstakingly reconstructed, harrowing account by a seasoned expert in the region.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.