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