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Captive: My Time as a Prisoner of the Taliban Hardcover – June 22, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; First Edition edition (June 22, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080508827X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805088274
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #874,930 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

An American journalist exploring the war zone on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border reports unwanted lessons in its perils in this harrowing memoir. Having traveled with the freedom fighters in the '80s, Van Dyk thought he had the connections and knowledge to navigate the tribal lands between Pakistan and Afghanistan, but he was captured by a fractious band of Taliban fighters in 2008. Van Dyk (In Afghanistan: An American Odyssey) and his Afghan guides spent 44 days in a dark cell. Well-fed but terrified, he felt a nightmare of helplessness and disorientation. Dependent on a jailer who mixed solicitude with jocular death threats and a ruthless Taliban commander who could free or kill him on a whim, the author performed Muslim prayers in an attempt to appease his captors; wary of murky conspiracies involving his cellmates, he was afraid of everybody, including the children. Van Dyk's claustrophobic narrative jettisons journalistic detachment and views his ordeal through the distorting emotions of fear, shame, and self-pity. But in telling his story this way, he brings us viscerally into the mental universe of the Taliban, where paranoia and fanaticism reign, and survival requires currying favor with powerful men. The result is a gripping tale of endurance and a vivid evocation of Afghanistan's grim realities. 1 map. (June 22)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“If you want to read an amazing book, check out Captive, by Jere Van Dyk. . . . What this reporter lived through is, I think, pretty much the most frightening thing a journalist could be subjected to. He wrote a phenomenal book about it that I consumed in about a day. Please read it.”--Sebastian Junger, author of War

“Rich and revealing. . . . Offers a rare and complicated portrait of the Taliban mentality seen through discerning Western eyes.”--The Washington Post
“A vivid portrait of a man under stress and pressure, producing the equivalent of war’s high tension and terror. . . . Some of [Van Dyk’s] passages inevitably will become part of the canon.”--The Boston Globe

“A gripping tale of endurance and a vivid evocation of Afghanistan's grim realities.”--Publishers Weekly

“A harrowing survival story.”--Kirkus Reviews

More About the Author

Jere Van Dyk is the author of In Afghanistan: An American Odyssey, an account of his travels with the mujahideen in the 1980s, during their struggle against the Soviet Union. Since then, he has covered stories all over the world, mainly for The New York Times, CBS News, and National Geographic, which have required him to visit places where few Western reporters had ventured before. He lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

The narrative is extremely boring and monotonous.
V. Subramanian
The author's account of his captivity is so vivid that you feel as if you are sitting right beside him, observing and feeling all that he feels.
Christi Gibson
I thought the book was very compelling and quick to read.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 60 people found the following review helpful By David C. Isby on June 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I know Afghanistan and the Pakistani borderlands. I've been there many times over the past 30 years and have just written my fourth book (AFGHANISTAN: GRAVEYARD OF EMPIRES, published by Pegasus) about that area. So I have encountered Jere Van Dyk, whose expertise goes back many decades, and many of the same people, places and hazards that he did. I can vouch for the accuracy and authenticity of what he has written about. This is all the way it actually is out there. I can also attest to the vivid and compelling way in which he has told his story. This is the real high-stakes world. Unlike the embedded reporters with US and NATO forces, there was no one to call for a rescue helicopter or provide back-up. If anything counts as "extreme reporting" it was what Jere Van Dyk was doing.

The old calypso folk song, "The Sloop John B" has great resonance with anyone that has ever travelled through this part of the world, because of its heartfelt chorus "This is the worst trip I've ever been on". We've all thought we were on that trip on one time or other, but Jere Van Dyk, no fooling, found it. He ended up falling into the hands of some very evil guys and had no idea whether they were going to hack his head off with a blunt dinner knife as they did to Daniel Pearl, sell him to Al Qaeda, or use him to resolve generations of political and religious resentment in even more painful ways. That he not only endured but came through to write this book is a story both of endurance and a demonstration of what is at stake in the conflicts in the region.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By N. B. Kennedy TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Captivity narratives are fascinating in the way a train wreck is fascinating. We don't want to look, but we have to look. We are stunned and horrified at what we see. We desperately want to return to the decisive moment when it all could have been averted. Yet we cannot go back.

Jere Van Dyk wanted to return to the Afghanistan he loved as a young man and the Afghanistan he came to know more deeply when he traveled undercover with the mujahideen in the 1980s, reporting on their armed struggle against the Soviet Union. Given his connections, he thought he could report on the Taliban from the fractious tribal borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan, which no journalist had successfully navigated in years.

Renewing old ties and forging new ones, he makes brief forays across the border, but ultimately he is captured. His first look at his cell hints at what might lie ahead: "I was in a small baked-mud room.... I looked behind me to see if there was any blood on the wall. Was this a torture chamber? I saw black marks and wasn't sure. I saw chains on the dirt floor on my right. They were tied to a steel stake." Was Mr. Van Dyk betrayed? He doesn't know for sure. In fact, there isn't much he can know for sure as he endures the degradations of imprisonment. Most chillingly, he isn't sure he will live.

Mr. Van Dyk doesn't pretend to be brave or heroic or otherworldly spiritual. He writes of his fear, his sickness of body and heart, his shame and his grief. He admits to a fascination with his captors and their Islamic rituals, even their way of life. Yet he also feels the pull of his childhood Christian faith.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Wood is Good on August 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This was a fantastic read. Van Dyk creates a vivid account of his imprisonment with the Taliban - his fears and emotions are expressed so realistically, you will believe you are sitting right beside him throughout his journey. The paranoia, the fear, everything he experiences is written so hauntingly real that it is hard to put this book down; you will need to know what happens next.

It's not fair to point out particular scenes of interest, it's the kind of book one must experience for themselves and let the journey evolve as it does.

While he was not able to write the book he came to Afghanistan to write, the story Van Dyk tells is about as intimate a portrayal of the Taliban and Afghan culture as you could ask for. It's terrifying, yet disturbingly fascinating to understand the inner workings of the disjointed group of men who call themselves the Taliban.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Paper Pen VINE VOICE on July 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I respect American journalist Jere Van Dyk for having the guts to go into the heart of Taliban territory on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. And I sympathize with him for having to endure a 45-day captivity.

But Van Dyk's account of his ordeal is frustratingly difficult to read. There's a good story in this book, but it's tough to sift out.

"Captive" begins with Van Dyk preparing to make a furtive trip into Taliban territory, a delicate process of shadowy negotiations. But shortly after the trip begins he and his companions are taken captive by men whose motives aren't entirely clear. After a month and half in which Van Dyk repeatedly fears his execution is imminent, they are mysteriously freed.

Unfortunately, the book bogs down too often in Van Dyk's repetitive and circular emotional swings. He is distrustful of everyone (even those who help him after he is freed) and lurches between fears of death, suspicions about his companions, hopes for release, and, again, fears of death. Of course, these feelings are understandable under the circumstances, but detailing each mood change soon becomes tedious and advances the story nowhere.

"Captive" is also hamstrung by Van Dyk's use of short sentences almost exclusively ("It was dark and silent. No one talked. I put my head down and pulled my quilt over my head. I wanted to be alone. I thought of my family.") As a reader, you feel like you're constantly starting and stopping.

Van Dyk does succeed somewhat in putting a human face on the Taliban. He tries to understand his captors, and while they are often cold and exhibit a frightening religious fervor, they sometimes reveal a more compassionate side.
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