"A House in the Sky" by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

In August of 2008, Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout travelled to war-torn Somalia, the most dangerous place on earth, hoping to get her next big story.  Having already been to Afghanistan and Iraq, she knew the risks she was taking but what happened to her there was something she never expected.

On her fourth day in the country, Amanda and her photographer, ex-boyfriend Nigel Brennan, were abducted by masked men.  What followed was a nightmare.  Amanda and Nigel were held hostage for 460 days, abused and broken.  Theirs is a story of suffering, horror, and terror but more importantly one of hope, forgiveness, and survival.  

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett is an incredible tale of hope and survival against all odds.  Amanda is open and honest about her life before Somalia as well as her time in captivity.  Reading this book is as though you are sitting down with her yourself.  Her pain and her spirit jump off the page at you.

I remember reading about Amanda in the newspapers during her time in Somalia and I remember thinking "why on earth would she have gone there on her own?"  I could not understand how a young woman, unexperienced as a journalist, would head there on her own accord, without the backing and security of a major media outlet.  Now I know why.

Beginning with her troubled life in Alberta, where she would escape into back issues of National Geographic to get away from the instability of her family life, Amanda takes readers down the road that led her to Africa.  She began working as a waitress to pay for trips and she soon found herself going around the world for months at a time.  As she travelled to places in South America, Asia, and Africa, she realized that she could fund her trips through freelance journalism.  But after spending her time working for small outlets, including a stint in Iraq, she knew she needed something big to make her break.  And that is when she decided on Somalia.

The first part of the book reads like a travel memoir.  Amanda's stories of backpacking and meeting other travellers make you want to jet off yourself.  But the next part reminds you of how little we understand the world and how we often look at it with naiveté.  

Prior to heading to Somalia, Amanda had read the story of an Italian woman who was kidnapped in Somalia.  This sort of thing isn't rare.  Though very few Westerners are travelling there, there is money to be made through ransoms.  Amanda and Nigel did not come from wealthy families but this did not matter to their captors.  They had the means to hold them for long periods of time while the families collected the money.  And if they ran out of time, they could sell Amanda and Nigel to another, larger organization who could afford to keep them for as long as they needed to.  

This book is not an easy one to read.  Amanda and Nigel were physically abused by their captors and Amanda was sexually abused by a few of the men.  Though the two of them had converted to Islam as a means of survival, it did not stop the abuse from happening.  A failed attempt at escape made things worse.

But Amanda survived, not just physically but mentally.  It took every bit of strength she could draw upon.  And where one would assume she would build up nothing but hatred and contempt, she saw what laid behind the eyes of her captors - their failed dreams, and hearts and minds that knew nothing but violence and uncertainty.  Her story is by no means one that will make you feel sorry for her captors, but it does look at things from a view that is not often seen.  Despite their horrible actions, these are human beings and there are glimpses of understanding why human beings do such things to others.

One of the most moving parts of the book is when Amanda and Nigel attempt an escape.  As they flee to a nearby mosque with their captors following their trail, one person makes an attempt to save them.  An older woman puts her own safety on the line to try and save Amanda.  After reading that part, all I can do is hope that one day this woman will know how much her actions meant, not just to Amanda but to everyone who has heard her story.  Her actions that day showcase the love and compassion that exists in a country that from our side seems to know war and not much else.

Stories like Amanda's are very difficult to read, but they are important ones.  This is more than just a recounting of her kidnapping, it's a story about the strength of the human spirit.  While her physical wounds will heal, her emotional wounds may never, but Amanda is dedicated to not only telling her piece of the story of Somalia, but to making the future brighter for the people there.  This is one of the years must-read books.


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