This is not a novel. This - unfortunately - is a true story, an account of Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo’s abduction by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2007. It is a harrowing read but also a fascinating one, and it will keep you engaged throughout. It is a testament to how some people’s conception of “certainty” can lead to some very horrific events.
Mastrogiacomo, a veteran journalist who has covered stories in some of the world’s most dangerous places, is afforded the opportunity to interview a Taliban commander in the southern region of Afghanistan. Accompanied by his interpreter Ajmal and their driver Syed, they arrive at the pre-arranged meeting point only to discover - to their horror - that they were being abducted, taken prisoner. “If you’re spies, we’ll kill you,” the Taliban tell him. “If you’re journalists, we’ll exchange you for some of our comrades in prison” and thus begins a two week odyssey of terror.
Constantly on the move, imprisoned in one makeshift “cell” to another, Mastrogiacomo begins to learn about his captors and what this “Quranic Student Movement” is really all about. Not knowing from one moment to the next whether or not he will live or die, the reader is brought along on this frightening experience. One moment they are attentive, almost treating him like a “guest”, while the next he is being beaten with rubber hoses by his captors, forced to make video pleas to Italian officials and journalists, all the while not ever knowing what his fate will ultimately be.
But during his capture he comes to learn a lot about these (mostly) very young self-proclaimed “warriors”. He learns of their customs, their belief systems, their absolute willingness to lie and more frighteningly, their compunction to kill without batting an eye - as he is witness to the brutal beheading of their driver Syed. He tries to maintain his courage in the face of those whose belief systems are in direct opposition of his own and he does try to understand them, regardless of these differences. He has no sympathy for them and during the narrative he makes that abundantly clear; but all his notions of the “rules of engagement” are thrown out the window as his captors play psychological warfare with him throughout his captivity.
The narrative propels forward like a suspense novel and you will be gripped by this - and you will also get a better understanding about how dangerous those whose “certainty” about the world - and the universe as a whole - can be. When “God is on your side”, life on this earth means very little, especially when there’s the promise of eternal rewards awaiting you.
A must read for anyone who wants to understand the psychology behind what the world came to know as a very, very dark movement.