Just as Canadian journalist-turned-humanitarian Amanda Lindhout says that she is “continually inspired by the courage and resilience of the Somali people,” readers of her magnificent “A House in the Sky” will be continually inspired by Lindhout, who was kidnapped by Somali rebels in 2008 and held captive for 15 torturous months.
Written with American journalist Sara Corbett, Lindhout’s memoir is a story of a woman who endured the unimaginable: 450 days of rapes and beatings with little food and dirty drinking water, her hands and feet tied so tightly that at times she couldn’t breathe. For weeks at a time, she and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan were kept in isolated houses in black, windowless rooms. Worse, however, were the weeks they spent in apartments close enough to others to hear the muezzins’ call to prayer and the chatter of women shopping. Yet even there, escape — and, at times, hope — was impossible: “It was unclear whether we’d find any help or simply get kidnapped all over again by someone who saw us the same way our captors did — not just as enemies, but enemies worth money.”
As much as “House” is a horror story, it’s also very much a love story: of Lindhout’s love for travel, for family, for adventure and, incredibly, for the Somali people — even her captors, some as young as 14, whom she believes might not have turned violent if Somalia provided its people better educations and opportunities.
As explained in the first chapter, Lindhout’s desire to explore the world started when she was 9 when she bought back-issues of National Geographic “for 25 cents apiece at a thrift store down the road.” Flipping through the magazines “sucked the dankness out of the carpet” in her family’s basement apartment and “lifted the lead” out of the Alberta sky. At 19, after learning that a skilled waitress could earn as much as $700 a night in tips, she began working double shifts at Calgary hot spots to fund extended backpacking trips — first with a friend to Venezuela, Paraguay and Guatemala, and then solo to India, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. Thrilled by the adventure, Lindhout began freelance writing.
Knowing it was dangerous, but hoping it would launch her career, Lindhout went to Somalia to report on its civil war. Four days in, she and Brennan were kidnapped.
Engrossing from the first page, “A House in the Sky” is a story as monstrous as it is moving, as terrible as it is transforming. Its examination of evil and goodness asks readers to not just consider the contents of others’ hearts but, perhaps more important, the contents of their own.
Cindy Wolfe Boynton is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and writing instructor.