Tuesday, February 10, 2015


A House in the Sky, Amanda Lindhout, Scribner, 2013, 367 pp

This memoir was picked by two of my reading groups last month. I am glad I read it.

Amanda Lindhout was an adventurous young woman who lived to travel. She liked middle and far eastern locations best. As a young girl growing up in a broken family, she would read National Geographic magazines and picture herself visiting all those locations.

She made her first journey at 19 years of age, having saved up her tips as a cocktail waitress in her Canadian home town. She wanted to know and understand the whole world and learned the life of backpacking, youth hostels, and living cheap. Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Laos, Bangladesh, India, Sudan, Syria, and Pakistan were countries she traveled in during the early years of the 21st century.

She made friends easily and as her confidence increased she pursued breaking into the profession of reporting about foreign affairs. But in 2008 she recklessly entered Somalia, then considered the most dangerous country on earth, and by her fourth day there she and her former lover were kidnapped and held for ransom by young soldiers who worked for men who made big bucks and contributed to jihadists with those funds.

Amanda and her Australian friend were imprisoned and abused in a series of desert dwellings for 460 days until they were finally rescued. It is a harrowing tale well told by Amanda and co-writer Sara Corbett.

Some time ago I named a genre: Prison Camp Lit. I have read a good deal of it and have vacillated between morbid fascination and nauseous unease, learning how both captors and captives deal with some of the most degraded environments known to man. A House in the Sky would fall into a subgenre: Hostage Lit.

The book is a deep look into the psychology of both the kidnapper and the hostage, told through Amanda's perceptions. She was vastly more mistreated than her male counterpart. The fact is women without protection get raped. The "house in the sky" is an imaginative construct she built to give her spirit somewhere to go while her body was being put through horrendous pain and suffering.

Neither the Canadian nor Australian governments pay hostage money, understandable in terms of not wanting to encourage the practice but cruel in my opinion. Both Amanda and her friend's families eventually went into crippling debt to secure their release. I've read reviews of this book by people who probably have never experienced an unsafe day in their lives and criticize Amanda for being naive and foolish, for causing many people a lot of trouble, etc, etc.

Plenty of journalists are taken hostage not to mention all the military personnel who either come home with severe PTSD or lose their lives and are not thanked for their trouble except with the lip service, "Thank you for your service." Amanda admits she was heedlessly over-confident and has done much to make amends for the trouble she caused. The point to me is that she is a heroine of the first order, one because she survived and two because her book tells a huge amount of truth about our world.

(A House in the Sky is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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