In 2008, on her fourth day in Somalia, aspiring journalist
Amanda Lindhout and her ex-lover Nigel are kidnapped by a band of fundamentalist
mercenaries who will hold them hostage in a series of prisonlike outposts for
15 months. Ransom is set at $3 million.
From the start of A House
in the Sky
, a searingly unsentimental account of that period
written by Lindhout (with help from journalist Sara Corbett), we feel we know
this young woman, whose passion for adventure travel draws her to increasingly
dangerous destinations and culminates in a hastily conceived trip to one of the
riskiest places of all—Mogadishu, where warlords rule and lawlessness
prevails. Which is to say, while some people fall into harm's way, Lindhout
threw herself there.
While in captivity, Lindhout hungrily reads the Koran—"anything
to feed my gnawing mind"—and fakes conversion to Islam in an effort to
manipulate her captors. She and Nigel are eventually separated, and then the
nightmare deepens. Lindhout is repeatedly raped by one of the young men
guarding her; the first time carves "a gulch between me and the person I’d
been." Still, she finds things to be grateful for—a scrap of paper to write on,
the bravery of a woman who risks her life to help her. As visits from “the boys”
continue, she floats above her body, conjuring a "house in the sky," forbidding
the abuse to define or defeat her.
Hardship and dogged hope coexist and keep Lindhout sane,
even as her teeth crumble and she nearly starves. Ultimately, it is compassion—for
her naive younger self, for her kidnappers—that becomes the key to her
survival, and it remains with her well after family members scrape together
enough money to negotiate her and Nigel’s release. The determination that kept
Lindhout alive fuels her now as she runs the Global Enrichment Foundation,
which empowers Somali women through education, among other initiatives; still,
at any moment even a smell can hauntingly trigger a phantom gut-punch, an "instant
panic." For Lindhout, the world is now a place filled with specters that may
open "a floodgate of fears without warning."
— Holly Morris