Memoirs Too Powerful to Put Down

Real stories, real women, real lessons that will shake you up and set you back down—changed for the better (and stronger).
A House in the Sky

A House in the Sky

384 pages; Scribner
Available at: | Barnes & Noble | iBooks
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