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

3.7 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Times Books; 1 edition (June 22, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080508827X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805088274
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,760,668 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Jere Van Dyk went through a harrowing ordeal that should be wished upon no one. This book intimately captures the raw emotions of a hostage that doesn't know what is going on, if he will live through the day, or if he will ever be released.

That said, it is a tough read. It comes as a surprise that Van Dyk is a writer, given his constant use of 3,4, and 5 word sentences. In the midst of these simple sentences come beautifully constructed full sentences that are wonderfully descriptive, so he knows how to write well when he wants to. A second complaint is his jarring and continual use of non-sequiturs by everyone he quotes - Afghan, Taliban, or American. But it's evidently how he thinks and writes. Together the short sentences and non-sequiturs make for hard reading.

From the beginning Van Dyk seems willfully ignorant of the extremely dangerous feat he's attempting. Didn't he know the fate of Danielle Mastrogiacomo, an Italian journalist taken hostage by the Taliban a year before? He certainly knows of Daniel Pearl, whom he mentions in the book.

Van Dyk is strangely naive in his belief that Pashtun cultural norms are absolute and can never be broken. He certainly deserves recognition for his deep knowledge of Afghan culture and past reporting from there, but he is shocked over and over again that Pashtuns do things he thought were forbidden by their culture. Perhaps because of this Van Dyk assigns his captors almost superhuman abilities of perception, believing that they could tell if he was genuine or not about his conversion to Islam.

He also goes native, for whatever reason, to the point of dressing like an Afghan and trying to speak the language (poorly, it turns out).
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