If you asked Amanda Lindhout back in 2004-2005, “What do you do?” she probably would have answered without hesitation, “I’m a traveler.” And the descriptions of her adventures will likely make you want to travel, too. She will draw you in with descriptions of the blue-black pool that is Lake Atitlán in Guatemala, the windswept sandstone of Mount Roraima in Venezuela and the hustle and bustle of Bangladesh. For nearly half of A House in the Sky, you’ll have to fight the urge to buy a plane ticket and start counting off countries yourself.
Raised in small town Canada, Lindhout took a job at 19 as a cocktail waitress and used her extravagant tip money to travel the globe. She would return only for brief stints to refill her bank account before heading back out. She was gutsy and resourceful and somewhat naive as she traveled to over 47 countries in the span of just a few short years.
Eventually she took a job as a reporter in Baghdad in 2008 before deciding to leave the position and try her hand as a freelance journalist in Somalia. Her plan was to spend 4 weeks total in Mogadishu with her friend and former lover, Nigel, who was there as a photojournalist. Knowing the Somalian government was extremely unstable and the country widely considered unsafe, they planned to be in and out within a month. But they didn’t come home for over 460 days, held hostage by a group of insurgents from the Hizbul Islam fundamentalist group.
If the start of the book left you itching to get out and see the world, the second half will make you want to hole up at home. Lindhout isn’t overly dramatic in the recounting of her tale and her writing style is simple and unadorned. It’s the simplicity in the telling that will draw you in and make you feel as though you are right there with her each agonizing day. Surviving rape, torture, abuse and suffocating boredom, Lindhout shows great vulnerability in sharing her story and she even gives the reader two gifts; two inadvertent lessons in survival. Whether you are facing everyday struggles or something as hostile as a hostage situation, you can learn something valuable from the two tactics she employed throughout her captivity.
First Lindhout occupies herself with the practice espoused by her meditation CD of deep breathing and choice phrases that calm her spirit (in her case, “right now, I choose peace”). Second, while starving and being held in utter darkness, bound by chains, unable to even sit up, Lindhout somehow transcends her circumstances by using the power of her mind to build her an imaginary stairway and then an entire house in the sky above her where,
…the voices that normally tore through [her] head expressing fear and wishing for death went silent, until there was only one left speaking.” This voice asks, “In this exact moment, are you O.K.?” She answers, “Yes, right now I am still O.K.
While the book might not change your life, so to speak, those two lessons are worth learning and anytime someone survives an ordeal like that, and not only lives to tell but goes on to truly laudable things, it has the power to uplift and transform us. Lindhout founded the Global Enrichment Foundation in 2010, which provides educational assistance for Somalian women, and is a renowned speaker on forgiveness, compassion, social responsibility and women’s rights.
My rating: 7.75
Books I’m currently reading:
- My Bright Abyss: Meditations of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman (I will be reading this for the rest of my life on an endless loop, I think)
- Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber
- Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (just finished this morning, actually)
- The Cuckoo’s Calling by Richard Gilbraith (ahem, JK Rowling)