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A House in the Sky: A Memoir

A House in the Sky: A Memoir

4.6 64
by Amanda Lindhout, Sara Corbett

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Amanda Lindhout reads her spectacularly dramatic memoir of a woman whose curiosity about the world led her from rural Canada to imperiled and dangerous countries on every continent, and then into fifteen months of harrowing captivity in Somalia—a story of courage, resilience, and extraordinary grace.

At the age of eighteen, Amanda Lindhout moved from


Amanda Lindhout reads her spectacularly dramatic memoir of a woman whose curiosity about the world led her from rural Canada to imperiled and dangerous countries on every continent, and then into fifteen months of harrowing captivity in Somalia—a story of courage, resilience, and extraordinary grace.

At the age of eighteen, Amanda Lindhout moved from her hardscrabble Alberta hometown to the big city—Calgary—and worked as a cocktail waitress, saving her tips so she could travel the globe. As a child, she escaped a violent household by paging through National Geographic and imagining herself in its exotic locales. Now she would see those places for real. She backpacked through Latin America, Laos, Bangladesh, and India, and emboldened by each experience, went on to travel solo across Sudan, Syria, and Pakistan. In war-ridden Afghanistan and Iraq she carved out a fledgling career as a TV reporter. And then, in August 2008, she traveled to Mogadishu, Somalia—“the most dangerous place on earth”—to report on the fighting there. On her fourth day in the country, she and her photojournalist companion were abducted.

An astoundingly intimate and harrowing account of Lindhout’s fifteen months as a captive, A House in the Sky illuminates the psychology, motivations, and desperate extremism of her young guards and the men in charge of them. She is kept in chains, nearly starved, and subjected to unthinkable abuse. She survives by imagining herself in a “house in the sky,” looking down at the woman shackled below, and finding strength and hope in the power of her own mind. Lindhout’s decision, upon her release, to counter the violence she endured by founding an organization to help the Somali people rebuild their country through education is a wrenching testament to the capacity of the human spirit and an astonishing portrait of the power of compassion and forgiveness.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal - Audio
Lindhout spent her childhood paging through old thrift store copies of National Geographic, dreaming of a world beyond her small Canadian hometown, and as an adult she saved her tips from her waitressing jobs to fund her travels abroad. She attempted to turn her passion for travel into a career in journalism by taking risky, undesirable assignments. It was one such opportunity in Somalia that would change her life forever when she and her friend Nigel were kidnapped and held for ransom for 460 days. She endured horrific conditions and abuse at the hands of her captors but was often able to find inner strength despite the external chaos. Lindhout narrates, her voice seldom quavering despite having to recount the personal details of her nightmarish ordeal. She rarely turns to anger as a method for coping with her circumstances and is introspective as she chronicles her time in captivity. VERDICT Recommended. ["Moving and informative reading for everyone," read the starred review of the Scribner hc, LJ 9/15/13.—Ed.]—Theresa Horn, St. Joseph Cty. P.L., South Bend, IN
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 awry—it'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.
Publishers Weekly
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.”
Good Housekeeping
“A riveting memoir…”
Booklist (starred review) - 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.”
Eckhart Tolle
“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.”
Jeannette Walls
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.”
Elizabeth Gilbert
“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.”
David Rohde
“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.”
Susan Casey
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.”
Jane Mayer
“An amazing, mesmerizing tale that shows international terrorism at a shockingly personal level. Lindhout's strength of character shines through on every page.”
Jared Cohen
“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.”
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…”
Library Journal
★ 09/15/2013
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
Kirkus Reviews
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.

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Simon & Schuster Audio
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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.

Meet the Author

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.

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.

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A House in the Sky: A Memoir 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 64 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
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WARNING - Trigger for abuse victims. I read this book and was amazed by the stark beauty of the prose. Riveting, gut - wrenching and ultimately unforgettable.