The compelling and insightful account of a New York Times reporter's abduction by the Taliban, and his wife's struggle to free him.
Invited to an interview by a Taliban commander, New York Times reporter David Rohde and two Afghan colleagues were kidnapped in November 2008 and spirited to the tribal areas of Pakistan. For the next seven months, they lived in an alternate reality, ruled by jihadists, in which paranoia, conspiracy theories, and shifting alliances abounded. Held in bustling towns, they found that Pakistan's powerful military turned a blind eye to a sprawling Taliban ministate that trained suicide bombers, plotted terrorist attacks, and helped shelter Osama bin Laden.
In New York, David's wife of two months, Kristen Mulvihill, his family, and The New York Times struggled to navigate the labyrinth of issues that confront the relatives of hostages. Their methodical, Western approach made little impact on the complex mix of cruelty, irrationality, and criminality that characterized the militant Islam espoused by David's captors.
In the end, a stolen piece of rope and a prayer ended the captivity. The experience tested and strengthened Mulvihill and Rohde's relationship and exposed the failures of American effort in the region. The tale of those seven months is at once a love story and a reflection of the great cultural divide - and challenge - of our time.
New York Times reporter David Rohde and Cosmo magazine photo editor Kristin Mulvihill were married barely two months in November 2008 when he was captured outside of Kabul. In A Rope and A Prayer: A Kidnapping From Two Sides, the couple alternates narrating chapters to tell the story of his captivity and her heroic quest to free him.
Theirs is a genre-bending duet. Geo-political thriller, love story as diary, foreign-policy critique, the book features some welcome comic relief, too, thanks to Mulvihill’s wry Bridget Jones-style notes on her work at Cosmo when the drama begins.
Rhode goes first, starting his account several months after he, his driver Asad Mangal, and his translator Tahir Ludin fall into a trap set by the memberd of the Taliban Haqqani sect. Relocated from one primitive prison house to another along the Afghan/Pakistani border, Rohde seeks clues to his captors’ plans as well as those of his seemingly dubious driver. His cool, often grim reportorial tone brings his harrowing reality to life as well as some surprisingly odd and enchanting moments of human connection, as when Rohde, with prisoners and guards playing key roles, reenacted his own recent wedding ceremony.
Having been kidnapped once before in the Balkans, Rohde knows the pain his family must feel, and feels special guilt for Mulvihill. Breaking his promise to forgo such on-the-job risk-taking, he has blindsided his new bride, and may yet widow her.
For her part, the warmth of Mulvihill’s voice and her self-deprecating humor immediately bring listeners into the mesh of her life in crisis. She describes a kind of makeover, from photo editor/wrangler of celebrity models to, with Rohde’s brother Lee, default team leader of the federal and private security personnel, former hostages, and media advisors recruited to her cause. Her chapters convey, often poetically, a deeply thoughtful woman, turning to friends, family, and faith to live in the present, even as she strives to keep her husband alive in body and in her own soul.
While the story sometimes stalls when Rohde takes on US Mideast policy, the intensely told, bold, and very lucky escape is compensation. Ultimately, listeners may feel the authors’ harmonic convergence in this multi-dimensional work that, at its heart, is a portrait of a marriage tempered by fate. Elly Schull Meeks
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