Rating: 4 / 5
Growing up in a shaky and unstable family environment, Amanda Lindhout coped by getting lost in National Geographic magazines, imagining herself traveling to exotic cities and villages that were highlighted in the glossy pages. When she leaves home at nineteen to work as a cocktail waitress, she makes more money than she thought she would, and thus begins saving money to travel around the world. Once a year she’ll take weeks to months off and backpack through exotic places and then go back home to waitress and save up for the next year’s journey.
As she becomes more comfortable traveling by herself and more comfortable with the unknowns and challenges of traveling, she begins venturing to more remote and dangerous situations. Inspired by Dan Rather’s big break reporting during a hurricane in Galveston, Texas, Amanda decides to travel to Somalia, one of the most dangerous places for foreigners. On her fourth day in Somalia, she is abducted along with her friend Nigel, and part of the group she was traveling with. Thus begins the horrific 460 days of captivity Amanda endured.
A House in the Sky is a painful yet enduring read; it is difficult to read about the violence and torture Amanda was subjected to for over a year. The first third of the book focused on Amanda’s background, the environment she was raised in, and her early travels around the world. At some points, it felt a bit drawn out, especially since the draw of the book is her time in captivity. However, this is important because it shows Amanda’s adaptability, flexibility, and resourcefulness. It takes a huge amount of courage for a woman to go backpacking alone in third world countries without a commanding grasp of the native language.
There were times when I wanted to scream at Amanda. Part of it is youthful ignorance, but part of it, I believe is selfishness which compelled her to go to Somalia. She had no reason to be there; she did not have interviews lined up, or a contract to report or write from Somalia, but wanted to go because it was dangerous, and hopefully would be her ‘Dan Rather’ moment. It was a huge error in judgment and costed her dearly.
A House in the Sky is a shining beacon of hope. It is amazing to read about what Amanda did in order to survive, from converting to Muslim to secretly passing notes to Nigel through the shared bathroom. Her resilience and strength are inspiring, as is her compassion and ability to see the kindness and the best in others. Many parts were difficult to read, especially when she was chained, raped, and beaten on a daily basis. Amanda’s memoir is gut-wrenching, powerful, and one that will haunt readers long after the last page is turned.