If you only read one memoir this year, make it A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett.
Amanda Lindhout is from Alberta, Canada. As a young child living in a turbulent household, she collected and cashed in bottles. And what did she spend her money on? Old National Geographic magazines. Amanda escaped into the pages,dreaming of one day visiting the exotic places pictured.
At nineteen she has saved enough money from waitressing to make those dreams a reality. Her first trip abroad is to Venezuela.
"I had seen this place in the magazine, and now we were here, lost in it. It was a small truth affirmed. And it was all I needed to keep going."
Lindhout repeats the cycle, earning, then travelling. She visits most of Latin America, India, Burma, Ethiopia, Syria, Pakistan, Sudan and dozens more. Her joy in exploring and experiencing new places and people is tangible. But, each trip she takes is a little further off the beaten path. And finally, she's travelling to some of the most war torn countries in the world.
In Kabul, Afghanistan she begins a career as a fledgling freelance /journalist/photojournalist - with no formal training, associations or contacts. With some success under her belt, she heads next to Baghdad, Iraq to work as a reporter for Iran's Press TV. Moving on from there she decides to head to Mogadishu, Somalia in 2008 - bigger stories might help her career take off faster. She wonders if an old flame, Nigel Brennan, an Aussie photographer wants to join her. He does.......and four days after their arrival in Somalia, they are kidnapped by insurgents from an Islamic fundamentalist group. And, they are held.... for 460 days.
"It was here, finally, that I started to believe this story would be one I'd never get to tell, that I would become an erasure, an eddy in a river pulled suddenly flat. I began to feel certain that, hidden inside Somalia, inside this unknowable and stricken place, we would never be found."
A House in the Sky is Amanda's recounting of those 460 days. She is beaten, starved, chained up, kept in the dark, raped and tortured. These are the facts.
"There are parts of my story that I may one day be able to recover and heal from, and, to whatever degree possible, forget about them and move on. But there are parts of my story that are so horrific that once they are shared, other people's minds will keep them alive."
How she survives is a story that had me tearing up, putting the book down and walking away from it so many times. It's a difficult read, but is such a testament to the human spirit and will.
Amanda names each of the houses they are held in - Bomb-Making House, Electric House, Tacky House and more. But it is the House in the Sky that had me freely sobbing - at the worst of times she builds a house in her mind, filled with the people she loves and the memories she treasures, the future she dreams of.
"I was safe and protected. It was where all the voices that normally tore through my head expressing fear and wishing for death went silent, until there was only one left speaking . It was a calmer, stronger voice, one that to me felt divine. It said, 'See? You are okay, Amanda. It's only your body that's suffering, and you are not your body. The rest of you is fine.' "
The journey to their release is gut-wrenching, incredibly powerful and impossible to put down. I stopped many times to look at the smiling author picture of Amanda on the back, wondering how in the world she survived. Survived and forgave. And as I turned the last page, I just sat. Sat and thought. This is a book that will stay with you, long after that last page. Read an excerpt of A House in the Sky.
Amanda Lindhout is the founder of the Global Enrichment Foundation - "a non -profit organization that supports development, aid and education initiatives in Somalia and Kenya
on October 16, 2013
This book was an eye opener. It led me into places I have never seen and most certainly do not understand.
I commend Ms. Lindhout on leading us through the drama and terror of her days and months of confinement, in her attempt to help us understand her adventurous spirit and the situation she found herself in. Though I often questioned her naivety and the decisions to put herself in harms way, I applaud her bravery and reasoning during her captivity.
Fear, anger, sadness, and horror, my emotions were tripping over each other as I turned the pages of this memoir.
I would recommend this book, if for no other reason, than to better understand the world we live in and what is happening out there, and how vulnerable we can be when we intrude into the lives of others who see us through very different eyes.
on November 1, 2013
Having lived in Red Deer, AB during this time, I followed Amanda's story closely, wishing and praying for her quick release. That's not to say there weren't doubts as the longer it dragged on, the less likely it appeared she would be freed. But to see how the community came together to raise funds for her release was heartwarming.
I found her book to be very well written and very blunt. I found myself gasping to catch my breath as she and Nigel made their escape; running through the streets of godknowswhere, hoping to reach freedom. How she endured being held captive for that long is truly amazing. It shows her character and resiliency in making a bad situation bearable.
It truly is a book you'll find hard to put down once you start it.
on September 7, 2013
I had been following the story of Amanda since the initial kidnapping in Somalia many years ago and the ordeals she was forced to undergo as dimly reported in national newspapers. It was horrifyingly fascinating due to, what we must admit to straightaway, the great physical beauty of Amanda, and the desolation of being captive in Somalia, said to be the most dangerous place on earth, which even aid groups like medecins sans frontiers had abandoned. Equally shocking was the idea that ordinary folks (her family) would have to raise a million dollars as ransom without the help of government or she would be killed. So I definitely jumped on the book when I saw it was finally out because I wanted to hear 'her side' of this big news story, especially the big question: why be so foolish to travel into Somalia? And how bad did it get, really?
The book does a great job of explaining her motivations, based on her free-spirited backpacker days obsessed with travel and seeing the world (and in fact these early chapters are really beautiful for those who like me are highly interested in travel too), thereafter the appeal of freelance journalism arises to fund her travels, which, due to its lack of success in for ex. Baghdad, led to the idea of venturing into Somalia which was underrepresented in journalism for obvious reasons.
Equally powerful is the understanding she brings both to her situation, her self-awareness of the mistake she had made, the situation inside Somalia, and the islamicism of her captors combined with their immaturity (mostly teenagers) and the absolutely soul-breaking experience of being captive for 15 months, thinking so often that death was a minute away.
What was a pleasant surprise to me was how beautifully well-written the book was. There is little of the purple prose or wallowing in emotional discharges that could have drowned such a memoir, everything is actually very lightly but beautifully described no matter the intensity of the feelings. Several pages I reread due to their great literary beauty.
Of course, the fact that her soul didn't break, she continued to have hope in the goodnesss of people, will make this book highly appealing to the general public. For myself I'm thankful I came to understand the reasons behind the bizarreness of this experience and entered fully into the mind of such a kidnap victim, made worse by the fact she was a female in a house full of teenage males, and experiences that are so extreme it's hard to believe they really happened.
It was so well-written truly I couldn't put it down when I started it and stayed awake until the early hours to finish it. The narrative is like a runaway train in its momentum, each time something happens you can't wait to see what happens next. I've never read a book that deserved more to be made into a movie.
This is not a book that I'd normally pick up but when it was chosen for our local One Book, One Community read I thought I'd give it a try. Going into it, all I knew was that it was about a hostage situation involving a young Canadian journalist in Somalia. What I didn't expect was how riveting a book could be even though I already knew the outcome.
A House in the Sky starts out showing Lindhout's childhood with her sometimes turbulent family life in Alberta, Canada. As a child she eagerly spends her meager pocket money on old National Geographic magazines and fantasizes about traveling to the far reaches of the world. At the age of 19, she earns enough money waitressing to spread her wings and make her first trip to Venezuela. There her love of travel is sparked and she continues to travel to far-off places including Pakistan, Ethiopia, Syria, Burma ... The more she travels the more dangerous some of her destination choices become, especially for a woman often traveling alone. While in Kabul, Afghanistan, and with no formal training, she decides to take up photography and journalism as a way to fund her passion for travel. In order to get bigger, more newsworthy stories she decides to go into more dangerous regions which leads her to Mogadishu, Somalia in 2008 - an area rife with danger and where most reporters choose not to venture.
Accompanying her to Somalia is her former boyfriend Nigel Brennan, an experienced photographer from Australia. Shortly after arriving in Somalia they are taken hostage and, in total, they are held captive in Somalia for a staggering 460 days. During these months they are tortured - both physically and mentally, starved, beaten and worse. Many scenes aren’t for the faint of heart and knowing that this wasn’t a work of fiction caused me to be much more emotional than I had anticipated.
Admittedly, some of Lindhout's decisions are naïve and impetuous and I had heard from other readers that witnessing her make these decisions frustrated them. I didn't have the same reaction. Instead, I thought she described her thought processes (and past experiences) well which enabled me to understand why she made those decisions. Still, it wasn't easy to read. I knew she'd be captured (and live through it). I knew there would, most likely, be violence and abuse and yet even though I knew generally how things would pan out for her I found myself on the edge of my seat for the majority of the book (and often hoping she'd somehow miraculously make different decisions).
Lindhout endured repeated horrors, deprivation, starvation and torture - both physical and psychological. And yet what will stay with me is her compassion and forgiveness towards her young tormentors (many of whom were teens and young men) and even Nigel, her friend and fellow prisoner, who made some decisions that didn't sit well with me. Lindhout showed compassion and forgiveness far surpassing anything I think I could manage if I were put in the same situation.
The fact that Lindhout survives is astounding but what is even more amazing is how, through months of pain and torture, she was able to keep her wits about her by imagining her House in the Sky - a place she could go to in her mind to get away from the horror she lived with on a daily basis. She is a testament to the power of the human mind, soul and the desire to survive.
This well-written book will pull you into Lindhout’s small world and while you may not agree with some of her decisions, you will be captivated by this book. Readers will witness vulnerability, strength, compassion and the strength of the human body and spirit. They will experience the roller coaster of emotions with Lindhout - from fear, despair, anger, horror but always with a glimmer of hope. Even though she had such a devastating experience in Somalia, Lindhout has proven that we have a choice in how life's events will affect our future. She has chosen to bring something positive to the people of Somalia via her organization, Global Enrichment Foundation which provides university scholarships to Somali women.
This is a book that will stay with me for a very long time. I am eager to meet Lindhout this fall when her book tour comes through my area. It will be a privilege to meet her and I hope that she realizes how much her tragedy has impacted others.
I highly recommend this book and give it my rare 5 stars.
on September 27, 2013
I initially had a lot of judgement toward Amanda, going into such a dangerous place. If it was so dangerous for American soldiers (Blackhawk Down), what on earth was an attractive, Western, white woman thinking when going into Somalia? I would have the same judgement on anyone going into such a place - man or woman.
My initial curiosity in her book however had to do with talk of her out of body experience. I wanted to know more about that.
What I hadn't counted on was her powerful, instinctive drive to purposely manage her survival and give herself a future, from within her own mind. Very powerful. Many people would simply have given up and taken their own life to get out of their circumstance. And she certainly had her opportunities. This speaks to the great strength of our spiritual nature that we rarely associate with.
on July 27, 2016
This was an amazing book---- I could not put it down---- how a correspondent worked in war ravaged countries --and was taken hostage and how she survived the whole ordeal--- It was well written--- an excellent read---
on October 8, 2013
It was eerie how soon after I read the book that the terrorist group raided the mall in Nairobi. I thought how very very fortunate she was not to have been handed over to Al Shabaab. I hope a lot of people read this book to help awake them to the very real threat of Islam No matter how much you want to dress it up, the Koran does say to kill the infidel.
I don't think she should castigate herself for her choices, How is she different than any of the great explorers of the past.
I truly loved the book. I hope it is advertised well as I think everyone in Canada should read it. I hope I can meet her some day.$500 one night in tips. Wow.
on March 20, 2015
A House in the Sky was an interesting read, but it is hard not to ask yourself "What the hell was Lindout thinking going to Somalia???"!! The author comes across as extremely self-possessed. It doesn't surprise me that she no longer has much of a relationship with her co-captive Nigel. I look forward to reading his book to get his version of events.
When Amanda Lindhout's parents split up, because her father was gay, her mother moved her and her two brothers from Red Deer to a small town called Sylvan Lake in Alberta, Canada. She also moved in her lover, Russell, an aboriginal, and his brother. Her mother Lori was thirty-two and Russell was twenty-one. He had a drinking problem. When he drank he became violent and would beat up her mother. At the time, Amanda was nine years old. She found refuge by reading the National Geographic Magazines, which she bought with the bottles she collected and cashed in. Her plan was to eventually leave home and travel to those exotic places she read about and hoped one day to visit.
At age 19, Amanda moved to the big city and oil town of Calgary. She worked as a cocktail waitress, saved her money and decided to make her dreams a reality. She would head to South America with her boyfriend Jamie. The first stop was to Caracas, Venezuela, followed by Brazil and Portugal. When Jamie stumbled and broke his foot, their South American tour was cut short. They flew back to Calgary and Jamie ended their relationship. Again, Amanda worked as a waitress, saved her money for her next trip to Central America. She bought the latest guide on Central America and she and her co-worker, Kelly, traveled to Costa Rica and saw all of Central America. They returned to Calgary and Amanda worked and saved her money. It was 2004 and Amanda was now 24 years old, when she and her mother, Lori, traveled to Thailand. This gave mother and daughter the opportunity to get to know each other better. After three months, Amanda's mother had to return home. Amanda now had to go solo.
Traveling alone made Amanda nervous. She continued on her way to India. She learned how to navigate the backpacker ghettos, the crossroads for the world's wanderers that are found in every big city. She made her way from Bangladesh into India by bus and train and arrived in Calcutta. There she found a room at the Salvation Army guest house in the heart of the backpacker ghetto. She did some volunteer work at one of Mother Theresa's charities. She got used to traveling alone. She knew where to go for help for various classes of train tickets, sit in a restaurant and eat alone without feeling self-conscious and where to find a pharmacy if she became ill etc. She e-mailed her mother and told her all the things that amazed her the most. She told her she was having the "BEST TIME EVER" and meeting people from all over the world. She was like a monkey swinging from one place to the next. Pakistan was next to India and she knew it was a dangerous place to go. There were bombs on buses, headless bodies, landmines, Al Qaeda, Bin Laden, the Taliban etc. Her mother warned her about going, but Amanda didn't listen.
In Pakistan, the bus deposited her in Lahore. It was a booming city with a Dunkin' Donuts and KFC near her cheap hotel. Her fears were now passing. She ignored her mother's e-mails. She was punishing her mother for putting limits on her. She would apply for a visa to Afghanistan. The visa was granted for a month stay. When she heard that a woman disappeared in Kabul, she decided to return home and resume her life as a waitress. She was angry at herself for giving in and not pushing forward. She got a refund on the rest of her ticket and applied it to the cost of a new one to Peshawar and the Afghan border.
In Afghanistan, after a stay of seven months, her lack of success as a photographer and no money, she returned to Calgary and went to work at the usual job. Out of the blue, she was offered a television journalism job in Baghdad. She would receive 4000$ a month and all her living expenses paid for. They were looking for an English speaking correspondent. She knew that Iraq had an Islamist government and a poor track record on human rights. Baghdad seemed harsher, more battle-worn than any place she'd been. In spite of this, she left for Baghdad and stayed at the Palestine Hotel. She had no security, so she moved with the little Press TV to the Hamra Hotel, which was more populated by Westerners. The LA Times, NBC News and a few others had staff living at the Hamra. When she returned from a brief vacation in Portugal, some of her neighbours had discovered a video on YouTube which she was in. The Press TV anchor uploaded a live broadcast she'd done with him three months earlier. When she was questioned about a subject matter, she in the best way she knew how and not having any experience, said something she should not have said. Now, she was in big trouble with the foreign reporters.
She was feeling pretty depressed and knew she would never get a job. She had to leave. She received an e-mail from her former boyfriend, Nigel Brennan, an Australian Photojournalist. She told him she was leaving for Somalia. She asked him if he would join her and help out with the expenses. They would make a name for themselves, she as a reporter- journalist and he as a photojournalist. He agreed and would be there in a few days. She had a contact there, who would arrange for her to have a translator with her and security. This contact also got her a room at the Shamo Hotel, the only lodging recommended for foreigners. She went to the Somalia Embassy in Kenya and paid 50 US dollars for a three month journalist visa. Nigel arrived and they were on their way to the most dangerous country on earth. They were heading to Mogadishu with a translator and two drivers. Amanda and Nigel were on their way to conduct interviews. Two days into their journey they were stopped by gunmen. They were kidnapped by Muslim extremists and held for ransom. They were separated and held hostage for over a year.
What happened to Amanda and her friend in Somalia is gut-wrenching and brutal.
A House in the Sky is very well written and exquisitely told. I will remember it long after the final page.
I applaud you Amanda Lindhout for having the courage and strength to put your powerful story on paper.
I would also like to thank Sara Corbett for assisting Amanda in getting the story out and enlightening us as to the atrocities going on in this day and age in Somalia and the like.
Kudos to Amanda for your help in creating a school for Somali women in a run down section of Nairobi, known as little Mogadishu. In the winter of 2012, Amanda spent several weeks there arranging for computers and supplies, meeting with teachers and some of the seventy-five women, who signed up as students. The school was named Rajo, a Somali word for HOPE.