This weekend, The New York Times began running a five-part series from reporter David Rohde, who was kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2008 and remained in captivity for seven months and 10 days. In “Held by the Taliban,” Rohde uses first-person narration to recount the ordeal he faced with Afghan journalist Tahir Luddin and their driver, Asad Mangal.
The Times wisely realizes that when an event has as much inherent drama as a reporter abducted by a militant group at war with that reporter’s home country, simple language suffices. But in the first two installments—all that have been published to date—Rohde manages to go well beyond a gripping read, working in a wealth of news on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions, as well as the methods and motivations of Taliban fighters.
Rohde doesn’t have a traditional narrative voice, but he knows how to use minimalism to pack a powerhouse punch (for another example, see this account of his 1995 discovery of graves from a Serb massacre of Muslims). In the first of the five installments, he does make the occasional odd choice about what to include—such as describing in detail what underwear he was wearing the day he was kidnapped. But these off-kilter observations make his account more compelling, evoking the memories and details on which the mind fixes when death seems imminent.