The New York Times Book Review - Eliza Griswold
[Lindhout's] tale, exquisitely told with her co-author, Sara Corbett…is much more than a gonzo adventure tale gone awryit's a young woman's harrowing coming-of-age story and an extraordinary narrative of forgiveness and spiritual triumph…There's no self-pity or grandiosity in these pages. The rage and self-hatred born out of bad decisions and bad luck have long since burned into a clear-hearted attempt to record the cruelties Lindhout endured…In the cleanest prose, she and Corbett allow events both horrific and absurd…to unfold on their own. Lindhout's resilience transforms the story from a litany of horrors into a humbling encounter with the human spirit.
Canadian journalist Lindhout gives a well-honed, harrowing account of her 459-day captivity at the hands of Somali Islamist rebels. Bit by the travel bug early in her life, partly due to the stultifying conditions at home in Sylvan Lake, in Alberta, Canada, where she lived with her single mom and abusive Native American boyfriend, Lindhout was attracted to the exotic world depicted within the pages of National Geographic and vowed to “go somewhere” as soon as she could. Working at an Alberta nightclub called the Drink, Lindhout was able to cobble together money to travel over the years, eventually finding herself in Africa and the Middle East, freelancing as a photographer and journalist and having a love affair with a (married) Australian photographer, Nigel Brennan. Convinced war-torn Somalia would be the “hurricane” to make her career, in August 2008, at age 25, she and Nigel flew to Mogadishu, and, with a “fixer” and an SUV full of official “guards,” set off to view a displaced-persons’ camp but was instead carjacked by a group of kidnappers who demanded millions from the Westerners’ families. Her captors moved her frequently from hideout to hideout, and she eventually converted to Islam (“They can’t kill us if we convert,” she told Nigel), was separated from Nigel, and was raped and tortured. Lindhout attempted escape but no one came to her aid. She and Nigel miraculously survived as their families and governments dickered over ransom negotiations. (Sept.)
Vogue - Rebecca Johnson
“A poetic, profound, and thrilling exploration of one woman’s misadventure set against the backdrop of global terrorism…Elegant and evocative.”
ELLE - Robert Draper
“A great book…The lesson [Amanda Lindhout] taught me and others who know this remarkable young woman is: What matters is not how you got there, but what you do once you’ve arrived.”
“A riveting memoir…”
Booklist - Kristine Huntley
“Writing with immediacy and urgency, Lindhout and Corbett recount the horrific ordeal in crisp, frank, evocative prose. But what readers will walk away with is an admiration for Lindhout’s deep reserves of courage under unimaginable circumstances.”
“A vivid and moving account of how Amanda kept alive the inner light and the spirit of forgiveness even as she found herself in the heart of darkness.”
“A House in the Sky is a stunning story of strength and survival. It is sometimes brutal, but always beautiful as Amanda Lindhout discovers that in a fight for her life, her most powerful weapons are hope and compassion.”
“This is one of the most powerfully-written books I have ever read. Harrowing, hopeful, graceful, redeeming and true, it tells a story of inhumanity and humanity that somehow feels deeply ancient and completely modern. It is beautiful, devastating and heroic—both a shout of defiance and a humbling call to prayer.”
“In this lyrical and inspiring book, Amanda Lindhout describes humanity's capacity for cruelty. Yet she also brings to life the deep compassion and courage that resides in all of us. A story of grace, insight and tenacity, A House in the Sky shows us the power and importance of perseverance, hope and forgiveness.”
“A House in the Sky is the riveting story, exquisitely told, of a young woman’s passionate quest to create an uncommonly large life, against all odds. Amanda Lindhout’s journey is a singular one, an epic adventure that ranges from colorful to gripping, in which the stakes are nothing less than absolutely everything. With stunning honesty and clarity, Lindhout and Corbett have made certain of two things: No reader will ever forget this book—or be able to put it down.”
Slate - Emily Bazelon
“Lindhout manages to tell her story and to transcend it. Her account stands as a nonfiction companion to Emma Donoghue’s shattering, haunting novel about captivity, Room.”
USA Today (4-star review) - Korina Lopez
“[A] harrowing, beautifully written memoir….The wide-eyed optimism and unflappable determination that led [Amanda Lindhout] to danger also kept her alive…A brave, compassionate and inspiring triumph.”
O, the Oprah Magazine - Holly Morris
“A searingly unsentimental account…Ultimately, it is compassion—for her naïve younger self, for her kidnappers—that becomes the key to [Lindhout’s] survival.”
The Christian Science Monitor - Grace Bello
“Keenly observed and sprinkled with arresting details, A House in the Sky is more than one woman’s heartbreaking tale of captivity. The book sheds light on a conflict area not often painted with nuance. It dares to explore the outer reaches of human empathy. A stunning, haunting, and redemptive read, Lindhout’s story is one that stays with you long after the book has been closed.”
The Daily Beast
“An elegant and wrenching memoir…”
“An amazing, mesmerizing tale that shows international terrorism at a shockingly personal level. Lindhout's strength of character shines through on every page.”
“If you have ever wondered how extraordinary people overcome physical and mental anguish, you must read A House in the Sky. Amanda Lindhout's riveting account of strength and survival will inspire and leave a lasting impression.”
Held for 15 months in Somalia by ransom-hungry jihadists who captured her, friend Nigel, and three Somali assistants only days after she had landed in the country; shackled for ten months following an attempted escape; rotated through a series of vermin-infested rooms; raped, beaten, and left half-starved, dehydrated, and with abscessed teeth when she was finally released, Lindhout responded by founding the Global Enrichment Foundation to help the people of Somalia—a fact she mentions briefly in an entirely un-self-congratulatory epilog. That's all you need to know to appreciate this remarkably keen-eyed, honest, and radiant memoir, written with accomplished journalist Corbett. Lindhout starts with her hardscrabble upbringing in western Canada, her desire to travel fueled by National Geographic ("my world, I was pretty certain, was elsewhere"), then details trips throughout Latin America and Asia. Inspired by journalists she met to launch her own career, she did a brief stint in Baghdad, then headed for Somalia, reportedly the most dangerous country on Earth—but, as she said, "I'd always been off to one side, enjoying the good." The bad found her, yet there's less anger here than thoughtful observation and the desire that readers understand. VERDICT Moving and informative reading for everyone. [See Prepub Alert, 3/4/13.]—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
With the assistance of New York Times Magazine writer Corbett, Lindhout, who was held hostage in Somalia for more than a year, chronicles her harrowing ordeal and how she found the moral strength to survive. In 2008, Lindhout, after working as a cocktail waitress to earn travel money, was working as a freelance journalist. In an attempt to jump-start her fledgling career, she planned to spend 10 days in Mogadishu, a "chaotic, anarchic, staggeringly violent city." She hoped to look beyond the "terror and strife [that] hogged the international headlines" and find "something more hopeful and humane running alongside it." Although a novice journalist, she was an experienced, self-reliant backpacker who had traveled in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She hired a company to provide security for her and her companion, the Australian photographer Nigel Brennan, but they proved unequal to the task. Their car was waylaid by a gunman, and the group was taken captive and held for ransom. Her abductors demanded $2 million, a sum neither family could raise privately or from their governments. Negotiations played out over 15 months before an agreement for a much smaller sum was reached. The first months of their captivity, until they attempted an escape, were difficult but bearable. Subsequently, they were separated, chained, starved and beaten, and Lindhout was repeatedly raped. Survival was a minute-by-minute struggle not to succumb to despair and attempt suicide. A decision to dedicate her life to humanitarian work should she survive gave meaning to her suffering. As she learned about the lives of her abusers, she struggled to understand their brutality in the context of their ignorance and the violence they had experienced in their short lives. Her guards were young Muslim extremists, but their motive was financial. Theirs was a get-rich scheme that backfired. "Hostage taking is a business, a speculative one," Lindhout writes, "fed by people like me--the wandering targets, the fish found out of water, the comparatively rich moving against a backdrop of poor." A vivid, gut-wrenching, beautifully written, memorable book.
Read an Excerpt
We named the houses they put us in. We stayed in some for months at a time; other places, it was a few days or a few hours. There was the Bomb-Making House, then the Electric House. After that came the Escape House, a squat concrete building where we’d sometimes hear gunfire outside our windows and sometimes a mother singing nearby to her child, her voice low and sweet. After we escaped the Escape House, we were moved, somewhat frantically, to the Tacky House, into a bedroom with a flowery bedspread and a wooden dresser that held hair sprays and gels laid out in perfect rows, a place where, it was clear from the sound of the angry, put-upon woman jabbering in the kitchen, we were not supposed to be.
When they took us from house to house, it was anxiously and silently and usually in the quietest hours of night. Riding in the backseat of a Suzuki station wagon, we sped over paved roads and swerved onto soft sandy tracks through the desert, past lonely-looking acacia trees and dark villages, never knowing where we were. We passed mosques and night markets strung with lights and men leading camels and groups of boisterous boys, some of them holding machine guns, clustered around bonfires along the side of the road. If anyone had tried to see us, we wouldn’t have registered: We’d been made to wear scarves wrapped around our heads, cloaking our faces the same way our captors cloaked theirs—making it impossible to know who or what any of us were.
The houses they picked for us were mostly deserted buildings in tucked-away villages, where all of us—Nigel, me, plus the eight young men and one middle-aged captain who guarded us—would remain invisible. All of these places were set behind locked gates and surrounded by high walls made of concrete or corrugated metal. When we arrived at a new house, the captain fumbled with his set of keys.
The boys, as we called them, rushed in with their guns and found rooms to shut us inside. Then they staked out their places to rest, to pray, to pee, to eat. Sometimes they went outside and wrestled with one another in the yard.
There was Hassam, who was one of the market boys, and Jamal, who doused himself in cologne and mooned over the girl he planned to marry, and Abdullah, who just wanted to blow himself up. There was Yusuf and Yahya and Young Mohammed. There was Adam, who made calls to my mother in Canada, scaring her with his threats, and Old Mohammed, who handled the money, whom we nicknamed Donald Trump. There was the man we called Skids, who drove me out into the desert one night and watched impassively as another man held a serrated knife to my throat. And finally, there was Romeo, who’d been accepted into graduate school in New York City but first was trying to make me his wife.
Five times a day, we all folded ourselves over the floor to pray, each holding on to some secret ideal, some vision of paradise that seemed beyond our reach. I wondered sometimes whether it would have been easier if Nigel and I had not been in love once, if instead we’d been two strangers on a job. I knew the house he lived in, the bed he’d slept in, the face of his sister, his friends back home. I had a sense of what he longed for, which made me feel everything doubly.
When the gunfire and grenade blasts between warring militias around us grew too thunderous, too close by, the boys loaded us back into the station wagon, made a few phone calls, and found another house.
Some houses held ghost remnants of whatever family had occupied them—a child’s toy left in a corner, an old cooking pot, a rolled-up musty carpet. There was the Dark House, where the most terrible things happened, and the Bush House, which seemed to be way out in the countryside, and the Positive House, almost like a mansion, where just briefly things felt like they were getting better.
At one point, we were moved to a second-floor apartment in the heart of a southern city, where we could hear cars honking and the muezzins calling people to prayer. We could smell goat meat roasting on a street vendor’s spit. We listened to women chattering as they came and went from the shop right below us. Nigel, who had become bearded and gaunt, could look out the window of his room and see a sliver of the Indian Ocean, a faraway ribbon of aquamarine. The water’s proximity, like that of the shoppers and the cars, both comforted and taunted. If we somehow managed to get away, it was unclear whether we’d €nd any help or simply get kidnapped all over again by someone who saw us the same way our captors did—not just as enemies but enemies worth money.
We were part of a desperate, wheedling multinational transaction. We were part of a holy war. We were part of a larger problem. I made promises to myself about what I’d do if I got out. Do something good for other people. Make apologies. Find love. Take Mom on a trip.
We were close and also out of reach, thicketed away from the world. It was here, finally, that I started to believe this story would be one I’d never get to tell, that I would become an erasure, an eddy in a river pulled suddenly at. I began to feel certain that, hidden inside Somalia, inside this unknowable and stricken place, we would never be found.