A House in the Sky: A Memoir Hardcover – Sep 10 2013
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, September 2013: Amanda Lindhout’s story starts as a breathless travelogue, inspired by National Geographic: as a kid in rural Alberta, Lindhout scavenged bottles to buy thrift store copies of the magazine, escaping through its pages from a violent home into a vast, vibrant world. In her twenties, she sought out every amazing place she’d always wanted to see, then kept going, loving the rush of pushing beyond the next border. Travel became her education, and a desire to make it her vocation as a freelance journalist draws her to Afghanistan, Iraq, and finally Somalia, where a hungry young reporter with guts might make a name for herself. Lindhout’s hubris can be frustrating: intellectually, she knows Somalia is the “most dangerous country on earth,” but she still talks her former lover, freelance photojournalist Nigel Brennan, into coming along. By this time, both of them have moved through so many unpredictable places unscathed that the possibility of real peril is a hazy abstraction, and their abduction by armed extremists comes as a shock. As their captors hold out for a ransom of $1.5 million, Lindhout and Brennan defensively convert to Islam and try to remain sane through covert communication, but after a botched escape, Lindhout endures severe torture and repeated assault --and survival means drawing on her every reserve. Written with uncommon sensitivity (by Lindhout and cowriter Sara Corbett), A House in the Sky becomes a moving testament to her ability to cultivate resilience and a kind of spiritual transcendence, even in profound darkness. Witnessing her experience left profoundly grateful for everything I have, more sharply aware of how I choose to react to circumstances beyond my control. Most of us will never live a day like the 460 Lindhout spent in captivity, but we all have our trials, and we can cultivate our own resilience. --Mari Malcolm
Guest Review of A House in the Sky
By Susan Casey, author of The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean
Growing up in the small town of Red Deer, Alberta, Amanda Lindhout dreamed big. She was a young girl with a curious streak the size of the Rockies, and though her wrong-side-of-the-tracks provenance seemed to promise only a flatline future, Lindhout decided to change her own fate. Out there, she knew, beyond a horizon dotted with oil rigs and trailer parks, magic awaited, a vast map filled with all things "lost or unexplored, mystical or wild."
How did Lindhout know this? National Geographic. Paging through worn copies of the magazine, she was transported to every spectacular place she’d never been: “The world arrived in waves and flashes, as a silvery tide sweeping over a promenade in Havana or the glinting snowfields of Annapurna. The world was a tribe of pygmy archers in the Congo and the green geometry of Kyoto’s tea gardens. It was a yellow-sailed catamaran in a choppy Arctic Sea."
And so, fueled by waitressing wages and determination, Lindhout’s travels begin, at first in idyllic ways, then accelerating and acquiring a degree of difficulty that would daunt any seasoned explorer. In short order, Lindhout—working as a freelance journalist—ventures into places like Kabul and Baghdad, Addis Ababa, the back alleys of Cairo, and then, finally, Somalia, where the stakes become nothing less than life or death.
Lindhout’s story is exhilarating and harrowing and several other brands of extreme, and it would be riveting however it was told. But in A House in the Sky, readers will find a rare and beautiful alchemy: writer Sara Corbett captures Lindhout’s voice and spirit with utter mastery on the page, and a kind of ferocious grace that I found breathtaking.
I know that’s a strange phrase, ferocious grace. Lindhout’s desire—her need, even—to live on all cylinders burns bright in this book, but Corbett deftly reminds us that even when chipping away at cement, “covered in grit and cobwebs,” while attempting a desperate escape from her prison, Lindhout is still that unassuming and hopeful girl from Red Deer, Alberta. The one who wrote to her mother from India, “I am going to Jodhpur. It is a city in the desert, called the Blue City, as all the buildings are painted blue! I am having the BEST TIME EVER!”
In fact, it’s Lindhout’s contradictions that make her such a rich character. She can be naïve and driven, generous and opportunistic, ambitious and fitful, sometimes all at once. At the same time she’s heading for danger, she’s making friends. And even after she is taken hostage by an extremist group, and her situation descends into darkness, she finds small measures of beauty and even optimism in her captivity. And within that simple, brutal paradox, Lindhout manages to stay alive.
What Lindhout endured during her 460 days in captivity is difficult to absorb, but Corbett is brilliant with the telling detail, and her writing is so strong that she can paint readers a vivid picture with only a few brush strokes.
A House in the Sky is a true story of a young woman’s radical adventures. It is absorbing and inspiring and textured. It is terrifying. It illuminates. It is the best book I have read in a very long time.
“Exquisitely told…[A House in the Sky] is much more than a gonzo adventure tale gone awry—it’s a young woman’s harrowing coming-of-age story and an extraordinary narrative of forgiveness and spiritual triumph….There’s no self-pity or grandiosity in these pages. In the cleanest prose, she and Corbett allow events both horrific and absurd…to unfold on their own. Lindhout’s resilience transforms the story from a litany of horrors into a humbling encounter with the human spirit.” (Eliza Griswold The New York Times Book Review)
“Lindhout manages to tell her story and to transcend it. Her account stands as a nonfiction companion to Emma Donoghue’s shattering, haunting novel about captivity, Room.” (Emily Bazelon Slate)
“A poetic, profound, and thrilling exploration of one woman’s misadventure set against the backdrop of global terrorism…Elegant and evocative.” (Rebecca Johnson Vogue)
“A great book…The lesson [Amanda Lindhout] taught me and others who know this remarkable young woman is: What matters is not how you got there, but what you do once you’ve arrived.” (Robert Draper ELLE)
“[A] harrowing, beautifully written memoir….The wide-eyed optimism and unflappable determination that led [Amanda Lindhout] to danger also kept her alive…A brave, compassionate and inspiring triumph.” (Korina Lopez USA Today (4-star review))
“A riveting memoir…” (Good Housekeeping)
“A searingly unsentimental account…Ultimately, it is compassion—for her naïve younger self, for her kidnappers—that becomes the key to [Lindhout’s] survival.” (Holly Morris O, the Oprah magazine)
“Keenly observed and sprinkled with arresting details, A House in the Sky is more than one woman’s heartbreaking tale of captivity. The book sheds light on a conflict area not often painted with nuance. It dares to explore the outer reaches of human empathy. A stunning, haunting, and redemptive read, Lindhout’s story is one that stays with you long after the book has been closed.” (Grace Bello The Christian Science Monitor)
“An elegant and wrenching memoir…” (The Daily Beast)
“[A] remarkably keen-eyed, honest, and radiant memoir…Moving and informative reading for everyone.” (Barbara Hoffert Library Journal)
“Writing with immediacy and urgency, Lindhout and Corbett recount the horrific ordeal in crisp, frank, evocative prose. But what readers will walk away with is an admiration for Lindhout’s deep reserves of courage under unimaginable circumstances.” (Kristine Huntley Booklist (starred review))
“A vivid, gut-wrenching, beautifully written, memorable book…” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))
“A well-honed, harrowing account…” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“A vivid and moving account of how Amanda kept alive the inner light and the spirit of forgiveness even as she found herself in the heart of darkness.” (Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now and A New Earth)
“A House in the Sky is a stunning story of strength and survival. It is sometimes brutal, but always beautiful as Amanda Lindhout discovers that in a fight for her life, her most powerful weapons are hope and compassion.” (Jeannette Walls, author of The Glass Castle and The Silver Star)
“This is one of the most powerfully-written books I have ever read. Harrowing, hopeful, graceful, redeeming and true, it tells a story of inhumanity and humanity that somehow feels deeply ancient and completely modern. It is beautiful, devastating and heroic—both a shout of defiance and a humbling call to prayer.” (Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things)
“In this lyrical and inspiring book, Amanda Lindhout describes humanity's capacity for cruelty. Yet she also brings to life the deep compassion and courage that resides in all of us. A story of grace, insight and tenacity, A House in the Sky shows us the power and importance of perseverance, hope and forgiveness.” (David Rohde, Reuters columnist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Rope and a Prayer and Beyond War)
“A House in the Sky is the riveting story, exquisitely told, of a young woman’s passionate quest to create an uncommonly large life, against all odds. Amanda Lindhout’s journey is a singular one, an epic adventure that ranges from colorful to gripping, in which the stakes are nothing less than absolutely everything. With stunning honesty and clarity, Lindhout and Corbett have made certain of two things: No reader will ever forget this book—or be able to put it down.” (Susan Casey, author of The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean)
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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.
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
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... Read morePublished 13 hours ago by lynda Young
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. Read morePublished 7 days ago by Laurie@The Baking Bookworm
Amanda is a skilled writer taking the reader into a nightmare of terrorism and horrific abuse at the hands of monsters. Her healing is moment by moment. Read morePublished 16 days ago by marlene
Great book. Tastefully done. A local girl for me so much of the story is a close to home one. An important read for everyone I think.Published 20 days ago by Amanda
Could not put this down! Takes you on quite an emotional journey - recommended!!Published 2 months ago by Melanie Sands - De Lilla
Excellent read, I could not put it down it was so interesting.Published 2 months ago by Jean C MacKinnon
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