Wednesday, 20 July 2016

A House in the Sky

Author: Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, Canadian
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 373
Publisher: Scribner
First Published: June 25, 2013
First Line: "We named the houses they put us in."

Book Description from GoodReadsThe dramatic and redemptive memoir of a woman whose curiosity led her to the world’s most beautiful and remote places, its most imperiled and perilous countries, and then into fifteen months of harrowing captivity—an exquisitely written story of courage, resilience, and grace.

As a child, Amanda Lindhout escaped a violent household by paging through issues of National Geographic and imagining herself in its exotic locales. At the age of nineteen, working as a cocktail waitress in Calgary, Alberta, she began saving her tips so she could travel the globe. Aspiring to understand the world and live a significant life, she backpacked through Latin America, Laos, Bangladesh, and India, and emboldened by each adventure, went on to Sudan, Syria, and Pakistan. In war-ridden Afghanistan and Iraq she carved out a fledgling career as a television reporter. And then, in August 2008, she traveled to Somalia—“the most dangerous place on earth.” On her fourth day, she was abducted by a group of masked men along a dusty road.

Held hostage for 460 days, Amanda converts to Islam as a survival tactic, receives “wife lessons” from one of her captors, and risks a daring escape. Moved between a series of abandoned houses in the desert, she survives on memory—every lush detail of the world she experienced in her life before captivity—and on strategy, fortitude, and hope. When she is most desperate, she visits a house in the sky, high above the woman kept in chains, in the dark, being tortured.

Vivid and suspenseful, as artfully written as the finest novel, A House in the Sky is the searingly intimate story of an intrepid young woman and her search for compassion in the face of unimaginable adversity.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: 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 na├»ve 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.

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