Review – A House in the Sky

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I had always been interested in reading this book due to its subject matter – if nothing else this was a memoir about enduring through the harrowing times as a hostage in the most dangerous country in the world. But I was shocked at the reviews that I was reading. While most praised Amanda Lindhout for her courage, many also commented on her naivety and how the book devoted an unnecessary amount of pages about her prior travels. Some people even felt like they were reading a travel log of Amanda’s!

Still, I had finally obtained a copy of the book and I wanted to see for myself what Amanda’s experiences were like, and I was so happy that I did. Far from being a one-dimensional account of her just listing off all the places that she visited culminating to Somalia, I thought her earlier travels were an integral part of the book for two reasons. Firstly, it illustrated Amanda’s insatiable wanderlust and curiosity to explore the world and experience it. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride as I was exposed to the various places that she visited, the culture that she managed to absorb and the sheer freedom her adventures. It also exposed her way of thinking and provided an explanation (albeit it was a rather naïve explanation—that I would not disagree) of why Amanda believed it would be an excellent opportunity for her to attempt to visit Somalia. I also found her choice of a career to be interesting—I’ve always been pretty focused on what I want to achieve and strived for it as much as I could—since she seemed to organically develop her interests and skills overtime. Albeit again, I’m sure there are people who would argue that her chosen skillset as a news reporter or a photojournalist was impractical, but I applaud Amanda for choosing to live her life on her terms. She got to explore the globe and visit places that struck her fancy whenever she wished.  Did it lead to the greatest of consequences? Absolutely not. And yet when reading about Amanda’s experiences that ultimately led her to Somalia, I wonder if she would abandon travelling and trade in for a “safer” life. I very much doubt it.

And of course, there was the bulk of the book where she was imprisoned as a hostage alongside with Negil Brennan and where all her nightmares began without end. It was an absolute horrific experience and it became extremely powerful, as she had to dig deep inside herself to still be a person while all her captors believed her to be property or a bargaining chip more than anything else. There were plenty of dark moments, and while it was not a graphic description there were certainly chapters that spoke of the darkness that she was drowning in. When reading about her captivity, I could not imagine how most other people would have survived the ordeal. It required a certain resilience, courage, faith, and forgiveness to have endured the captivity. Somehow Amanda’s coping strategies worked. Even in her worst moments, she managed to isolate the pain that she was suffering physically and made promises to herself that she would fulfill once she was released.

It was also highly fascinating to be given a glimpse at who were her captors—teenage boys and warring gangs—as Amanda tried to humanize herself and Nigel. She would always use their names and attempt to make conversation with them, even converting to Islam for the hope that they would treat the hostages better. Some of the most interesting (but not totally surprising) parts were when the captors would all want to speak with her and Nigel to practice their English, and how one of her captors would keep asking her what America would be like since he received an opportunity to study there. Despite their constant rejection of all things Western, it was obvious that even their captors were somehow infatuated and disgusted at the same time. All this amidst a backdrop where Nigel and she could lose their life at any second as the captors continuously called their families for ransoms, and always dissatisfied with the answer.

Sandwiched somewhere between her travels and her captivity were the relationships that Amanda had with everyone in her life. Certainly her relationship with Nigel was discussed quite thoroughly in this book given everything they have gone through, but it was also her relationship with her mother and friends and family that formed a three-dimensional person. Amanda was—and probably is—certainly not perfect; she could be petulant and naïve and full of herself at times, but she was very real. While her finer qualities may not be apparent until she had to undergo some horrific moments, at the end of the day she emerged as the stronger person as she walked away not vengeful or spiteful, but compassionate and forgiving. It was this character growth along with her life experiences that made this such a wonderful read for me.

This was a powerful and authentic story, and Amanda fully embraced all her darkest moments to share her experiences and share her positive energy with the world. Alongside Amanda was Sara Corbett, and between the two women this was a very smooth and engaging read. It was polished and fast-paced as well as heartbreaking. Words were almost not enough to describe my emotions when it comes to this book – it was a rollercoaster ride from the happiness and freedom to the despair and the fear of death and everything in between.

When I finished reading the story, I hope to have just even a bit of Amanda’s courage and resilience as I face any obstacles ahead of me. Because if I have learned anything from this book, it is that while there can be many dark moments in the path ahead, there is also plenty of energy and depth inside myself if I look deep enough to get through the less glamorous moments. This is not a story that I can or wish to forget any time soon.

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