[Feature photo: Tee La Rosa]
Title: A House in the Sky, Amanda Lindhout
The skinny: Held hostage for 460 days in Somalia, Amanda converts to Islam as a survival tactic, receives “wife lessons” from one of her captors, and risks a daring escape. Moved between a series of abandoned houses in the desert, she survives on memory—every lush detail of the world she experienced in her life before captivity—and on strategy, fortitude, and hope. When she is most desperate, she visits a house in the sky, high above the woman kept in chains, in the dark, being tortured.
Why you need to read it: First of all, this is not a usual book I’d recommend. I don’t read a lot of memoirs, and it’s not what you’d call a “literary masterpiece.” But I read half this book in one sitting and it has stayed on my mind since January.
Amanda was a well-seasoned traveller when she took on a freelance gig in Somalia. She fully acknowledges her carelessness in doing so. She had a very troubled, abusive childhood and she certainly wasn’t a stranger to risk-taking. She rambled her way around the Middle East and was familiar with war zones. I say this because it’s easy to pin her as an irresponsible, empty-headed youth, rather than a passionate world traveller. You, as a traveller, would understand:
“For a while, the world for me was like a set of monkey bars. I swung from one place to the next, sometimes backward, sometimes forward, capitalizing on my own momentum, knowing that at some point my arms—or, more accurately, my quivering bank balance, accessed through foreign ATMs—would give out, and I’d fall to the ground.”
You need to read this book because it’s one of the rawest, most honest books I have ever come across. You do not need to read this book if you are easily disturbed. At one point I found myself literally sobbing into my coffee.
What I learned from it: The public reaction from this book is worth studying. There were a lot of negative reviews that labelled Amanda as “careless” and “destructive,” as if it were okay for her to be raped, tortured, and starved. Some reviewers even went so far as to say, “She deserved it.” A comment on her Facebook Page read: “I’d rape her too, she’s hot.” Violence against women is clearly as rampant as ever in our “civilized” western world, not just in Somalia.
Read and make your own assessment. It’s an eye opener into what’s happening in that corner of the world, and it’s terrifying.