Monday, May 11, 2015

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett

This is a true story of Amanda Lindhout's abduction and 460 day imprisonment by Somali rebels when she makes an ill fated trip to that country.  I found it very well written, though quite graphic at times, and seemed to be a quite honest account of what happened.  Lindhout did not shy away from her guilt about going into the war torn country in the first place and the difficulties it caused for her family as well as her travelling companion, former lover and fellow captive, Nigel Brennan.  Apparently Brennan's book about the ordeal is not quite so sympathetic to Lindhout.

The book starts with Amanda's childhood in Sylvan Lake, Alberta.  She lives in a home with her mother, two brothers and her mother's abusive boyfriend.  Her father has recently come out and lives in a comparatively stable home in Red Deer with his partner.  To escape the troubles at home, Amanda hordes National Geographic magazines and dreams of escape.

She moves to Calgary at 19 with a boyfriend and makes money as a cocktail waitress which funds their first trip - backpacking through South America.  Eventually this relationship ends and she falls into a pattern of working several months to finance her travels and then traveling - to Asia, Central America and beyond.

As she becomes more experienced she travels alone and to more and more dangerous locations, especially for an unaccompanied woman.  She goes to Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East.  The tales of her travels are fascinating and at times humorous.  I was particularly amused by her description of the difficulties of renting a hotel room in Bangladesh when you are a woman without her husband or father.  On her travels she meets both journalists and photo journalists and becomes enamoured with the idea of being able to finance her travels in this way.  She even works for a time as the Baghdad reporter for an Iranian state television station.  She is not particularly successful in this line of work and feels that she needs to get to less competitive places to really make her mark.

So she decides to try her luck in Somalia.  She invites Nigel, who she had previously been involved with (he was married at the time which she did not know) but they had drifted apart.  She half expects him to say no but he comes along.

On their third day in the country they are abducted.  The remainder of the book details her experience - which is horrific.  She is starved, beaten, raped, humiliated, sick, separated from Nigel for the most part.  She receives far worse treatment just for being a woman.  She also gives a terrific account of their one unsuccessful attempt at escape - for which she is disproportionately blamed.  However, she also gives us glimpses of humanity - a neighbour who helps her escape, a woman at a mosque who risks her life in an effort to keep the kidnappers from recapturing her, and even some of the young captors.

There are also some details about the efforts by both the government and her family to obtain her release; complicated by the fact that Canada does not pay ransoms and her family has no money.  She only learns later of all the people who helped contribute to her rescue.

Definitely a worthwhile read, but not for the faint of heart - some of the descriptions of Amanda's rape and torture are very graphic.

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