A Word, A Word

Frank Westerman

Should you talk to terrorists? Will they see reason? These are basic, important questions. In A Word, A Word, Frank Westerman links his own experiences of hostage situations with the latest ideas as to how best to react to terror. It resulted in a gripping reportage about one of the stickiest problems of our time.

Westerman experienced train kidnappings in the north of the Netherlands as a boy, and later, as journalist, he witnessed Chechen terror in Russia. In this book he returns to the town where he grew up, and talks to several former kidnappers (one of whom is now a poet), as well as the psychiatrist who negotiated with them, whose successful mediation became known internationally as the ‘Dutch approach’.

Westerman underwent training in a police training village, in order to experience how it would be to negotiate with terrorists, and he weighs the patient, non-violent Dutch approach against the ruthless tactics employed by President Putin in dealing with Chechen terrorists in the late nineties. Which is more effective, the word or the bullet? Can the pen be mightier than the sword?

He concludes that they are mutually important: the weapon is ineffective without the word, and the sword is needed to protect the word.

Westerman is adept at using stories to stop the hardening of positions that leads to polarisation. He sees the role of the writer as vital in delving for precious facts, and so fuelling dialogue and debate, empathy and understanding. A Word, A Word is a defence of the softly-softly approach, a personal, engaged and well-informed report about the impact of bellicose language, and about the psyche of terrorists.

A Word, a Word is simultaneously history, reportage, drama, reflection and, not to be forgotten, literature.’ De Volkskrant

‘Compelling, intelligent, urgent, investigative journalism at its best.’ De Correspondent

‘Wonderful travels in search for threads of dialogue.’ Roberto Saviano, La Repubblica


  • De Bezige Bij, Netherlands
  • Christian Bourgois, France
  • Christoph Links, Germany
  • Iperborea, Italy