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Saturday, 17 May 2014

Amanda Lindhout - A house in the Sky

Following review written by Ro Bennett and read live on the bookshow 15th May 2014.
The dramatic and redemptive memoir of a woman whose curiosity led her to the world’s most beautiful and remote places, its most imperiled and perilous countries, and then into fifteen months of harrowing captivity—an exquisitely written story of courage, resilience, and grace.

Amanda Lindhout is from Alberta, Canada. "A House in the Sky" is the true story of the author and her ex-boyfriend Nigel Brannen’s  kidnap whist in Somalia as investigative reporters. They were held ransom for 3million US$ and suffered terrible deprivation and hardship before they were eventually released once the ransom was paid, a year and 3 months later.

Amanda came from an unstable, turbulent background and a dysfunctional family.  By the age of 19 she had saved enough money from waitressing to make her travel dreams of escape a reality. Her first trip abroad to Venezuela was followed by stints of waitressing to fund visits to most of Latin America, and amongst other destinations - India, Burma, Ethiopia, Syria, Pakistan and Sudan. In Kabul, Afghanistan she began a career as a freelance journalist/photojournalist - with no formal training, contacts or associations. From there she moved to Baghdad, to work as a reporter for Iran's Press TV. Then in 2008 she decided to go to Mogadishu, Somalia. She persuaded her ex boyfriend, Nigel Brennan, an Australian photographer to join her. However, four days after their arrival in Somalia, they were kidnapped by insurgents from an Islamic fundamentalist group.

The treatment they received was horrendous, and Amanda, as a woman was particularly badly treated - she was beaten, starved, chained up, kept in the dark, raped, tortured and humiliated. 

Although I felt desperately sorry for her and was appalled by her suffering at the hands of vicious, cruel young men, I didn’t warm to Amanda as a person from her account. There are many articles about her on the Internet many of which don’t show her in a particularly good light. There are times in her story when she appeared to be rather arrogant, scheming, manipulative and foolhardy. 

For instance, from the New York Times: Saturday, Aug. 23, the two set out for “the Wild West of militia-controlled Somalia.” Even the bodyguards they’ve hired won’t go there, and when their fixer tells them they’ll need to drive a few miles alone, they go ahead. Nigel’s gut tells him to turn back, but he says nothing…Not a minute out from a checkpoint, there’s a blue Suzuki blocking their path, then 12 gunmen, the bulk of whom shove themselves into Amanda’s and Nigel’s SUV and drive them away. 

One night, Nigel overheard Amanda on the phone, begging her mother to take the entire $500,000 that Nigel’s family had largely raised and use it to pay just for her release.

He was devastated. “I don’t think I have ever felt so lonely and cheated in my life . . . I’m furious at myself for trusting her.” The bank account for their ransom, it turns out, was  held in Australia, her mother fortunately unable to access it. Amanda’s  life certainly was unbearable, and so she was obviously under duress, but that situation didn’t endear her to me.

Having said that, her ordeal does also have a positive impact on her character as well: Amanda named each of the houses they were held in - Bomb-Making House, Electric House, Tacky House etc. But at the worst of times she built a house in her mind.  The House in the Sky which gives the book its title is filled with the people she loves and the memories she treasures, the future she dreams of.

She writes: ”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.' "

Today Amanda is the Founder and Executive Director of the Global Enrichment Foundation which raises money to help Somali women gain a university education. She has been featured on the pages of publications including ELLE, Canadian Living and The Globe and Mail and has appeared on The Today Show, NBC Nightly News and the BBC, describing her ordeal. Amanda divides her time between Alberta, Canada and Nairobi, Kenya.

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