A House in the Sky: A Memoir

A House in the Sky: A Memoir

by Amanda Lindhout, Sara Corbett


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451645613
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 06/17/2014
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 61,598
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Amanda Lindhout is the founder of the Global Enrichment Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports development, aid, and education initiatives in Somalia and Kenya. For more information, visit AmandaLindhout.com and GlobalEnrichmentFoundation.com.

Sara Corbett is a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine. Her work has also appeared in National Geographic; Elle; Outside; O, The Oprah Magazine; Esquire; and Mother Jones.

Read an Excerpt

A House in the Sky


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 find 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. Take Mom on a trip. Do something good for other people. Make apologies. Find love.

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 flat. I began to feel certain that, hidden inside Somalia, inside this unknowable and stricken place, we would never be found.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for A House in the Sky includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


As a child, Amanda Lindhout escaped a house governed by chaos and violence by paging through old issues of National Geographic and imagining herself in its exotic locales. At the age of twenty, Amanda boarded her first international flight to see those places in person. She traveled through Latin America, then Laos, then Bangladesh and India. When money ran out, she returned home to work and save for the next adventure, launching herself deeper into the world each time—backpacking solo across Sudan, Syria, Pakistan—and closer to some sort of edge, while also beginning to carve out a career as a reporter. In August 2008, she traveled to Mogadishu, Somalia to report on the fighting there. Three days into her visit, she and her friend, a photojournalist, were abducted. What follows is the story of Lindhout’s fifteen months in captivity. While her family in Canada attempts to negotiate impossible ransom demands, Lindhout focuses on staying alive—converting to Islam, receiving “wife lessons” from a militia leader, and plotting a risky escape that has devastating consequences. As the abuse she suffers escalates, A House in the Sky becomes a testament to the capacity of the human spirit to overcome unspeakable adversity and find a deeper resolve to live.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Above all else, Amanda identifies herself as a traveler, an identity born out of her childhood obsession with National Geographic. Why do you think National Geographic had such a large impact on her? What led Amanda to make the leap from the legions of armchair travelers into someone whose life revolved around her journeys?

2. On page 14, Amanda discusses sneaking into an amusement park after dark, with a childhood friend. She writes, “…we allowed ourselves to relax and feel giddy, forgetting that it was dark and we were trespassing, forgetting everything that scared or haunted us…” How does this childhood memory reflect Amanda’s experience traveling to foreign countries and unknown places? Is part of the thrill of travel related to risk?

3. Amanda’s first trip, to South America, initially disappoints her because Caracas doesn’t “feel foreign”. What does this demonstrate about the different ways people travel? As she leaves Caracas and ventures into the kind of journey she’ll come to crave, what changes for her?

4. During this trip to South America, Amanda confronts the experience of venturing off the beaten path, and defines the feeling of the frontier as “a knifepoint between elation and terror” (p. 36). How will this balance come to define her travels?

5. The memory of cutting her friend Kelly’s hair will become one of the things that sustains Amanda throughout her captivity. Why do you think this memory sticks with her?

6. In Dhaka, Amanda experiences what she sees as the “beautiful” side of Islam, but also confronts the dangers inherent in being a solo female traveler in that particular place. How does this dichotomy influence her experiences in captivity?

7. On page 67, Amanda quotes Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari, “All news out of Africa is bad. It made me want to go there…” Both Nigel and Amanda understand this sentiment, and it’s partially what draws them to Somalia. What do you make of the idea that bad news would bring someone to a place?

8. Amanda’s time in captivity is spent trying to negotiate the best way to stay alive—she vacillates between trying to understand and connect with her captors, through things like converting to Islam, and resistance like trying to escape. Why do you think Amanda and Nigel have such different takes how to best manage their captivity? What do you think are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each method?

9. When Amanda overhears a report of their capture on the radio, she writes of the feeling as “crushing. It was confirmation that our troubles were both real and deep” (p. 146). Why do you think this affects her so powerfully?

10. When Amanda is given an English-language Koran, it is the beginning of her “conversion” to Islam. How does Amanda’s relationship with Islam change throughout her time in captivity? As she reads the Koran and begins to understand it, and thus her captors, better, how does her awareness of her situation change?

11. Amanda reflects throughout the book on the strangeness of the relationships with her captors—even though they were imprisoning her, she attempted to feel compassion and understanding for them. Were you surprised that this was possible? Discuss Amanda’s relationships with Jamal, Ali, Adam, and the rest.

12. Nigel and Amanda’s relationship as fellow captives is at times extremely difficult. Discuss their different ways of coping. How did you feel when Nigel told Amanda to “just take this one”? Did you blame Nigel?

13. Throughout the book, and in particular during her captivity, Amanda uses mantras to calm herself. What does she find so effective about repeating simple words and phrases? Why do you think this kind of practice can be soothing?

14. On pages 220-221, Amanda writes about what being alone does to her mind, and refers to a kind of psychic energy that seemed insane before her captivity, but became more believable. What did you make of her account in your reading? Have you ever experienced this kind of psychic energy?

15. Discuss Amanda’s “house in the sky” (p. 292). How does this dream help her maintain hope, and survive?

16. Of writing notes to Nigel, Amanda says “…writing helped me to believe it. It staked some claim on the truth (p. 226)”. How does this idea relate to Amanda’s decision to write a book about her experience? How does Amanda’s relationship with writing evolve over her time in captivity (see also p. 364)?

17. How did reading A House in the Sky change your understanding of the role fundamentalist religion can play in a war-torn society? How did it change your perception of Somalia? What surprised you most in your reading?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Since her release, Amanda has dedicated herself to humanitarian efforts, including some that have brought her to Africa, and back to Somalia. Visit her website: AmandaLindhout.com and learn about the Global Enrichment Foundation [http://www.globalenrichmentfoundation.org/]. How does the knowledge of Amanda’s work after her captivity alter your understanding of the book?

2. Amanda is active on social media. Connect with her on:
Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/AmandaLindhoutPage)
Twitter (https://twitter.com/AmandaLindhout)
YouTube, (http://www.youtube.com/user/globalenrichment)
Instagram (http://instagram.com/amandalindhout#)
Twitter (https://twitter.com/AmandaLindhout)

Customer Reviews

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A House in the Sky: A Memoir 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 66 reviews.
HopeLife More than 1 year ago
An amazing account of life as a captive in war torn Somalia. The writing is fresh and easy to digest. The details are superb and make you feel the fear. It is an astonishing portrait of bravery and forgiveness.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow! Read the whole book in about a day, kept me on edge waiting to find out how she was rescued! Very heartbreaking story, but so happy she hung on and survived the horror she endured!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A disturbing but enthralling account of lives changed by extremists. The experiences portrayed in this book are at times unbearable to read, imagining the terror, pain and loneliness. I literally could not put this book down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A riveting account of an amazing young woman whose early and troublesome home life spur refuge in National Geographic magazines as a means of escape to distant lands. Reality soon leads her into some of the most troubled and dangerous countries of today. She is fueled by her courageousness and fortitude, and when held prisoner and forced into extreme brutality, it is her indomitable spirit to survive that is almost beyond comprehension. BJBNC
Twink More than 1 year ago
If you only read one memoir this year, make it A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett. Amanda Lindhout is from Alberta, Canada. As a young child living in a turbulent household, she collected and cashed in bottles. And what did she spend her money on? Old National Geographic magazines. Amanda escaped into the pages,dreaming of one day visiting the exotic places pictured. At nineteen she has saved enough money from waitressing to make those dreams a reality. Her first trip abroad is to Venezuela. "I had seen this place in the magazine, and now we were here, lost in it. It was a small truth affirmed. And it was all I needed to keep going." Lindhout repeats the cycle, earning, then travelling. She visits most of Latin America, India, Burma, Ethiopia, Syria, Pakistan, Sudan and dozens more. Her joy in exploring and experiencing new places and people is tangible. But, each trip she takes is a little further off the beaten path. And finally, she's travelling to some of the most war torn countries in the world. In Kabul, Afghanistan she begins a career as a fledgling freelance /journalist/photojournalist - with no formal training, associations or contacts. With some success under her belt, she heads next to Baghdad, Iraq to work as a reporter for Iran's Press TV. Moving on from there she decides to head to Mogadishu, Somalia in 2008 - bigger stories might help her career take off faster. She wonders if an old flame, Nigel Brennan, an Aussie photographer wants to join her. He does.......and four days after their arrival in Somalia, they are kidnapped by insurgents from an Islamic fundamentalist group. And, they are held.... for 460 days. "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 flat. I began to feel certain that, hidden inside Somalia, inside this unknowable and stricken place, we would never be found." A House in the Sky is Amanda's recounting of those 460 days. She is beaten, starved, chained up, kept in the dark, raped and tortured. These are the facts. “There are parts of my story that I may one day be able to recover and heal from, and, to whatever degree possible, forget about them and move on. But there are parts of my story that are so horrific that once they are shared, other people’s minds will keep them alive.” How she survives is a story that had me tearing up, putting the book down and walking away from it so many times. It's a difficult read, but is such a testament to the human spirit and will. Amanda names each of the houses they are held in - Bomb-Making House, Electric House, Tacky House and more. But it is the House in the Sky that had me freely sobbing - at the worst of times she builds a house in her mind, filled with the people she loves and the memories she treasures, the future she dreams of. "I was safe and protected. It was where all the voices that normally tore through my head expressing fear and wishing for death went silent, until there was only one left speaking . It was a calmer, stronger voice, one that to me felt divine. It said, 'See? You are okay, Amanda. It's only your body that's suffering, and you are not your body. The rest of you is fine.' " The journey to their release is gut-wrenching, incredibly powerful and impossible to put down. I stopped many times to look at the smiling author picture of Amanda on the back, wondering how in the world she survived. Survived and forgave. And as I turned the last page, I just sat. Sat and thought. This is a book that will stay with you, long after that last page. Read an excerpt of A House in the Sky. Amanda Lindhout is the founder of the Global Enrichment Foundation - "a non -profit organization that supports development, aid and education initiatives in Somalia and Kenya
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book. Couldn't wait until the end to see how they were rescued (since it was a true account, I already knew they were eventually safely rescued) but I was hooked from the first pages to go on this journey with Amanda. Very insightful memoir. I also learned a lot about Somalis, thus coming on the heels of the attack in Kenya so it made the book all the more real and scary.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was incredible, once i started reading i, i did not put it down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I saw amandas interview on the today show and i just had to read this book. Its a "i cant believe what im reading" type of book. Hard to read at times for the sole fact of what her and nigel endoured but it was a good read. I enjoyed the traveling stories; i envy the ability/ambition to travel and see the world!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An amazing true story. I couldn't put the book down! Excellent writing, the author really did a great job of putting you right in the moment. I highly recommend this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Simply an excellent read. One of the best books so far this year that I have read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I chose this book to read quite by accident and can offer no higher recomendation. If this read dosen't move you, you are immovable. Her experience is sometimes difficult tp read but leaves you with a new perspective on mans imhumanity to man. She is a survivor, a writer, and an inspirationt to anyone who should have given up hope, but didn' t. I hope this is not her only book.
Cindabella More than 1 year ago
This book is beautifully written. I really enjoyed the first few chapters getting to know Amanda and her travel philosophy and what lead her up to the point of venturing to Somalia. The book tugged at your heartstrings and at points I was crying while reading the pages. A really beautiful approach to such a horrific tale. Def a must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
excellent book. i have about 50 pages left. Very sad and compelling. think twice before traveling in the middle east.
MDT More than 1 year ago
I recently read A House in the Sky. It was the type of book that you will not want to put down. Easy reading, but descriptive and realistic. You could almost feel as though you were experiencing what Amanda went through during her captivity. If non fiction is your book of choice, I highly recommend you read this memoir. As a world traveler myself, I could relate to Amanda's wanderlust. I also find setting foot in a new destination, a thrilling experience It is too bad that she had to endure what she did...no doubt she is a stronger woman today in spite of it all.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is s must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Every time I started to read this book. I fell asleep.  I can't believe I paid $13.99 for such a boring book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read nonfiction constantly. I inhale biographies and eat memoirs for lunch. This book is the ultimate exciting read. I finished it in twrlve hours, staying up until dawn, and then picking right back up the minute of waking up. Wow. I just cannot say enough about it. A classic of travel adventure. You wl love it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a trrue story full of sadness and unending hope. It is the heartbreaiking story of the torturous treatmeent imposed by Somali rebels on two adventurous young people. Their 13 months of imprisonment waiting for a 2 million dollar ransom made a testament of determination. A book that is hard to read at times, but will stay with you forever.
libraryworm More than 1 year ago
What a powerful, compelling biography. It is very well written, gripping, emotional and quite the page turner! If you have one biography to read, make it House in the Sky.
Meghan_LaNice More than 1 year ago
This book was heart wrenching and inspiring. The things these people endured and overcame seem impossible to survive. I read every chance I got.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An incredible story of survival, that will keep you surprised at the strength one individual could possess.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very important story, very well told
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Speechless. A horrifying account of the author's capture in Somalia and her incredible will to survive. Beautifully and captivatingly written. A must read!
JessLucy More than 1 year ago
This was an amazing, sobering book. The heart-breaking story of Lindout's time spent as a ransom prisoner in Somalia conveyed in absolutely gorgeous prose. I so admire and appreciate this woman telling her story and moving on with her life of helping others. I def recommend this book. You may also want to read The memoir by Jacee Dugard, Elizabeth Smart's My Story and The Witness Wore Red.