A House in the Sky: A Memoir
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154 of 161 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon September 17, 2013
If you only read one memoir this year, make it A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett.

Amanda Lindhout is from Alberta, Canada. As a young child living in a turbulent household, she collected and cashed in bottles. And what did she spend her money on? Old National Geographic magazines. Amanda escaped into the pages,dreaming of one day visiting the exotic places pictured.

At nineteen she has saved enough money from waitressing to make those dreams a reality. Her first trip abroad is to Venezuela.

"I had seen this place in the magazine, and now we were here, lost in it. It was a small truth affirmed. And it was all I needed to keep going."

Lindhout repeats the cycle, earning, then travelling. She visits most of Latin America, India, Burma, Ethiopia, Syria, Pakistan, Sudan and dozens more. Her joy in exploring and experiencing new places and people is tangible. But, each trip she takes is a little further off the beaten path. And finally, she's travelling to some of the most war torn countries in the world.

In Kabul, Afghanistan she begins a career as a fledgling freelance /journalist/photojournalist - with no formal training, associations or contacts. With some success under her belt, she heads next to Baghdad, Iraq to work as a reporter for Iran's Press TV. Moving on from there she decides to head to Mogadishu, Somalia in 2008 - bigger stories might help her career take off faster. She wonders if an old flame, Nigel Brennan, an Aussie photographer wants to join her. He does.......and four days after their arrival in Somalia, they are kidnapped by insurgents from an Islamic fundamentalist group. And, they are held.... for 460 days.

"It was here, finally, that I started to believe this story would be one I'd never get to tell, that I would become an erasure, an eddy in a river pulled suddenly flat. I began to feel certain that, hidden inside Somalia, inside this unknowable and stricken place, we would never be found."

A House in the Sky is Amanda's recounting of those 460 days. She is beaten, starved, chained up, kept in the dark, raped and tortured. These are the facts.

"There are parts of my story that I may one day be able to recover and heal from, and, to whatever degree possible, forget about them and move on. But there are parts of my story that are so horrific that once they are shared, other people's minds will keep them alive."

How she survives is a story that had me tearing up, putting the book down and walking away from it so many times. It's a difficult read, but is such a testament to the human spirit and will.

Amanda names each of the houses they are held in - Bomb-Making House, Electric House, Tacky House and more. But it is the House in the Sky that had me freely sobbing - at the worst of times she builds a house in her mind, filled with the people she loves and the memories she treasures, the future she dreams of.

"I was safe and protected. It was where all the voices that normally tore through my head expressing fear and wishing for death went silent, until there was only one left speaking . It was a calmer, stronger voice, one that to me felt divine. It said, 'See? You are okay, Amanda. It's only your body that's suffering, and you are not your body. The rest of you is fine.' "

The journey to their release is gut-wrenching, incredibly powerful and impossible to put down. I stopped many times to look at the smiling author picture of Amanda on the back, wondering how in the world she survived. Survived and forgave. And as I turned the last page, I just sat. Sat and thought. This is a book that will stay with you, long after that last page. Read an excerpt of A House in the Sky.

Amanda Lindhout is the founder of the Global Enrichment Foundation - "a non -profit organization that supports development, aid and education initiatives in Somalia and Kenya
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78 of 86 people found the following review helpful
on September 11, 2013
I had been following the story of Amanda since the initial kidnapping in Somalia many years ago and the ordeals she was forced to undergo as dimly reported in national newspapers. It was horrifyingly fascinating due to, what we must admit to straightaway, the great physical beauty of Amanda, and the desolation of being captive in Somalia, said to be the most dangerous place on earth, which even aid groups like medecins sans frontiers had abandoned. Equally shocking was the idea that ordinary folks (her family) would have to raise a million dollars as ransom without the help of government or she would be killed. So I definitely jumped on the book when I saw it was finally out because I wanted to hear 'her side' of this big news story, especially the big question: why be so foolish to travel into Somalia? And how bad did it get, really?

The book does a great job of explaining her motivations, based on her free-spirited backpacker days obsessed with travel and seeing the world (and in fact these early chapters are really beautiful for those who like me are highly interested in travel too), thereafter the appeal of freelance journalism arises to fund her travels, which, due to its lack of success in for ex. Baghdad, led to the idea of venturing into Somalia which was underrepresented in journalism for obvious reasons.

Equally powerful is the understanding she brings both to her situation, her self-awareness of the mistake she had made, the situation inside Somalia, and the islamicism of her captors combined with their immaturity (mostly teenagers) and the absolutely soul-breaking experience of being captive for 15 months, thinking so often that death was a minute away.

What was a pleasant surprise to me was how beautifully well-written the book was. There is little of the purple prose, the gratuitous 'positive thinking power', or wallowing in emotional discharge that could have drowned such a memoir, everything is actually very lightly but beautifully described no matter the intensity of the feelings. Several pages I reread due to their great literary beauty.

Of course, the fact that her soul didn't break, she continued to have hope in the goodnesss of people, will make this book highly appealing to the general public. For myself I'm thankful I came to understand the reasons behind the bizarreness of this experience and entered fully into the mind of such a kidnap victim, made worse by the fact she was a female in a house full of teenage males, and experiences that are so extreme it's hard to believe they really happened. Apparently there are worse things that were left out of the book, which is hard to believe.

It was so well-written truly I couldn't put it down when I started it and stayed awake until the early hours to finish it. The narrative is like a runaway train in its momentum, each time something happens you can't wait to see what happens next. I've never read a book that deserved more to be made into a movie.
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73 of 82 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2013
What a stunning book! Not just beautifully wrought, but physically arresting. Like finish-the-book-and-walk-around-in-a-daze kind of stunning. Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett tell this harrowing story with such acuity, and attention to detail, that you feel you are right there with Ms. Lindhout in her many travels, and hardships. And, as such, for the last 20 pages i found myself with tears steadily rolling down my cheeks.

It made me at once ashamed to be a man, to be connected in any way to the perpetrators of such evil, and also to be buoyed as a part of the human crowd who do such amazing, heartfelt work, who give of themselves, who love unconditionally. Who literally save people.

The book is crafted so incredibly well that I was compelled to keep turning pages... It was a very hard book to put down. Which is saying something, since it takes some fortitude to pick it up... this is not a light story. Brutal at times, excruciating, but shot through with light in the most unusual places. And what light! Just glorious.

Going in, I knew the basic story. On top of hearing about it in the news, I read the book jacket, and beyond that, the prologue. There is even a reproduction (in the hardcover edition) of notes written by Ms. Lindhout to her mother while in captivity. So, I knew that Ms. Lindhout was captured in Somalia, knew the length of her captivity, and knew that she made it out alive (the book in my hands being living proof). But as is so often the case, what i thought i knew, i really didn't KNOW. And this is just one of the stunning feats of this book: despite knowing the major points of the story, I was continually surprised, and pulled into this book. You are almost lulled into a beautiful memoir/travelogue mindset in the early chapters, but then there are little prose seeds that remind you where this is going. They are brilliantly placed. They have the effect of creating an ominous tone under the score, that foreshadows the coming evil, ratcheting up the intensity, pulling you more fully into this world. You get in there and ride this taught bow-string of a narrative, and Lindhout and Corbett gradually tighten things, until you are stretched pretty thin, almost snapping... and then they let you fly.

I honestly have never read anything that had this kind of effect on me, or at least to this degree. The highs and lows that they not just describe, but pull you into, are truly amazing. Obviously, the story is a huge part of this -- what happened to Ms. Lindhout was unthinkable, incredible in the full sense of the word -- but the telling of this story -- the careful structuring of the narrative, the extremely specific, careful ordering of words -- is equally incredible. It is clear that a LOT of work went into this, and the prose just shines because of it.

I'm running out of words that mean 'excellent'... So, i'll just encourage you to go read this book. I know it is going to stay with me for a long, long time + I hope you decide to read it + are similarly awed.

I cannot imagine that there will be any other book out soon, that will be more thought-provoking, more intense, more love inspiring. Had Ms. Lindhout gone back to Somalia, armed, and brimming with hate and vengeance, I can't say many would blame her. But, what happened instead was this gift of a book, this lesson in forgiveness. In addition to the many other things she has done to help out in a place that desperately needs it, she and Ms. Corbett have put this beautiful book into the world.

Many, many thanks.
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42 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2013
I bought this book after listening to an interview with Ms. Lindhout on CBC radio. I'm glad I did. Her story is told with sensitivity, compassion and a non-ironic reflectiveness. Though it was difficult to read at times, I couldn't put it down for long... I finished in only two days.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2013
Focusing strictly on the narrative, I have to recommend this book very highly. It relates a harrowing experience in a very skillful way, only in a few passages verging on the overly artful. Outer action and suspense beautifully balance inner reflection and suffering. Pain is described openly but not indulgently; situations and settings are described clearly. Did Amanda get some help with the prose? My guess is that she did--not just with the editing but also the more artful descriptions and phrasing. It's just speculation on my part, and it doesn't make the story on the page any less enthralling.

Many people have commented on Amanda's naivete, but I'm more interested in her attraction to danger, what she refers to, late in the book, as a foolish sense of invincibility. Early chapters reveal a difficult, dysfunctional childhood, but we are left to make connections between that and her choices as a self-made freelance journalist learning on the fly.

As more and more horrors unfold on the page, I wonder when the narrator will reflect on those choices, but it comes in only 1-2 paragraphs late in the book, and more in the form of a rapid summary of personality traits and apologies and not as elaborated introspection. I'm sure that Amanda and Corbett (and the publisher) made conscious decisions about how much or little of that to include. Memoirs can't be all things to all people. Some of the best read more like novels than confessions or self-analyses, and that's to their credit.

Yes, Amanda suffered from naivete and maybe a bit of false invincibility, but she is certainly not the first person in her or his mid-twenties to surf among the sharks. I can certainly think of times when my own desire for adventure or a transcendent traveling experience blinded me to reality, but I can't imagine venturing blithely into one of the most dangerous places on earth--Mogadishu--after surviving Iraq and Afghanistan. I don't get it, but that's my projection, and the internet age has a way of making the world into a big backyard. Her return to Somalia also seems strange. I love the forgiveness and the creation of a foundation to fund educational opportunities for the women there, but it strikes me as more odd than brave or therapeutic to return to the belly of the beast, the site of extreme trauma. Again, that's my projection.

Back to the narrative itself, I have to say that the description of the escape into the mosque and the momentary rescue by the Somali woman is one of the most devastating sequences I have read or viewed in a movie. The sheer facts are moving enough, but the writing lifts those scenes from the page and drives them into our hearts.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2014
If you can make it past the unbelievable idiocy and naiveté of this woman, the book itself is very well-written. Reading a memoir of a kidnapping in Somalia, I shouldn't wish for the heroine's demise, but because she made such inane decisions and put so many people's lives at risk, including her own, that's exactly what happened. Over and over I asked myself how someone with so little life experience and/or education could bluff her way into such extreme danger. That Yeats poem, The Second Coming, came back to me many times while trying to make it through the story: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." I have to believe Ms. Lindhout's co-writer, Sara Corbett, played a huge role in the creation of this memoir, and for that reason, I give it three stars. The chapter entitled "House in the Sky" makes the book worth finishing. It's extraordinary.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2013
This book documents the kidnapping of Amanda Lindhout and a fellow journalist in Somalia, but the first part of the book also details the author's childhood and other travels. The background is essential to the main story because it gives the reader a sense of who the author is, her curiosity for the world, her adventurous nature and makes you relate to her and empathize with her during her kidnapping.

There has been some criticism of the author and her naiveté in going to a place like Somalia, but there are two things I would like to mention that made this book incredible and different:

1. At no point does the author indulge in self-pity, which considering her circumstances, is an incredible feat. She describes her kidnapping in vivid detail including the emotional and physical abuse that she suffers, but there is no under-lying attempt to gain sympathy or self-pity. She comes across as incredibly strong and that one does feel immense sympathy for the horrendous circumstances that she was in is due to the nature of what she underwent.

2. The author also has incredible control over her portrayal of Somalia and its people. Somalia is a foreign country to most people, considering that it is not a tourist destination and any news coming from the country generally tends to be about violence and war. In that situation, it is very easy for unaware readers to make vast generalizations about Somalians and the country itself based on Lindhout's experience. But she makes sure to never make any generalization about the country, and goes as far as to attempt to understand the reasons behind her kidnappers' actions. After the reading the book, I got a sense that Somalia is a dangerous country due to its political circumstances but I made no other assumptions about it.

Above all I really recommend this book as a story of human survival and resilience amidst the harshest of circumstances.
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31 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2014
This is a very hard book to rate and review. It's very well written and a compelling story but I would have liked it better if it had been fiction, I think. I kept getting stuck on the massive narcissism of this woman. It's one thing to backpack around the world although you can get yourself into a lot of trouble that way too but it's another to take a photography class, declare yourself a journalist and head off into war zones to take pictures. I couldn't help but wonder if she ever gave a thought to problems and suffering she could cause other people - her friends, her family and in some ways, her country. I also think that even if she had made it out of Somalia, she would have kept it up until she was kidnapped or killed in the end anyway. I don't see her as an heroic character at all. A sad depressing story.
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32 of 43 people found the following review helpful
on October 5, 2013
If one willingly, with no preparation, steps into the lion's mouth, they should not be surprised about being devoured without pity. If one escapes with only a few bites from the lion's mouth, that is no less than a miracle. Such miraculous escapes should be celebrated, but the escapee who should have never put themselves into harm's way in the first place should not be exalted.

As someone who spent a year exposed to Somalia's violence and mayhem in 1993-94, and who has followed events there very closely since then, I am appalled at Amanda's ignorance of the dangers awaiting her in Somalia and that she would even attempt such a visit. I am disgusted by the fact that she persuaded poor Nigel to accompany her on such a perilous mission of little, if any, value.

I am very happy that Amanda did survive and was freed after such a terrible ordeal, but I must question her sanity and intelligence. The impulsive and naïve manner she approached her trip into war-torn Somalia made her easy prey for Somalia's abundant profit-seekers and cutthroats. Amanda is a very lucky woman! I hope that before she enters again such a lawless country she takes more time to do her homework and talk to those who know what staying out of harm's way (if possible) in place like Somalia requires.

Nonetheless, this is a gripping tale and an interesting read about how a person copes with such extraordianary terror month after month. The reader should ask themselves what they would have done if caught in a similar situation. I know for myself I would not have survived because at the first good opportunity I would have tried to take out one of my captors. As for my own Somalia experience, I am only here to write this review because of a few minutes and dumb luck, Maybe divine intervention saved Amanda.

She would do well to do more reading about such countries and Africa in general before doing anything more on the continent. Even after leaving my home in the States and living and working on the continent for 43 years, I do not have the answers and I do not know how to avoid many of the deadly `traps' that today's Africa offers. I have worked in or visited all 54 African countries, but I do not have all the answers. Before Amanda, or anyone else, travels to the continent, they should find instructional my recent book, "Africa's Embrace," as it tells what it has meant for a kid from Kansas to have spent a lifetime in Africa.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2013
An easy, touching and soulful read. Powerfully honest. Why hasn't the world heard more tradgedy like this? This woman and her story should be a movie showing horrors and absurdities of Islamic tradition.
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