This read was so absorbing there were times I had to wonder if I could be objective enough to review the book. There is no doubt in my mind that teens will find it appealing, but it will also push their boundaries. Lindhout begins with glimpses of a childhood that could make for a dysfunctional family memoir all on its own. Then there was the escape to the nearest city after high school, where the (relatively) easy money and flexibility of cocktail-waitressing gave Lindhout access to the travel experiences she had been dreaming of ever since she was a little girl.
Next, the adventure travel part of the story — traveling among a culture of backpackers who rack up countries like it’s a competition, she went from South America to Asia to increasingly risky trips into Pakistan, Syria, Afghanistan. She learned that if she focused on the people and their everyday life, she found goodness and hope. Homes were opened to her. It was after she decided to try freelance photography & journalism that things got really dangerous. She went back to Afghanistan, then Iraq and finally, fatefully, Somalia.
As fascinating as Lindhout’s travels are, her memoir enters an entirely new plane after she and Nigel are kidnapped. Suddenly everything is concentrated in one room — or really, a series of rooms in different houses, to which they were moved in the dead of night. Their attempts to engage their captors in conversation, their conversion to Islam, the ransom negotiations that went nowhere, increasing frustration that led to worse and worse treatment. And then there is the escape attempt and its aftermath, which is frankly difficult to read. There was rape and torture involved. But somehow, the way Lindhout and Corbett tell it, it is not unbearable (or at all gratuitous or detailed). And it is important to read these sections because it was during that time that Lindhout created her “house in the sky”, that she found ways to survive. It is despite that treatment that she was able to forgive. Her writing is a powerful testament to hope and optimism and a belief in the good in people.
I cannot get the teenage boys who guarded Amanda and Nigel out of my head. They were the lowest in the ranks of the “soldiers” gathered together for this “project” and they were not treated very well, either. One of them looked forward to the ransom money so that he could afford to marry. He brings them treats from the market, and tells them about his intended. Another was hoping to study in America. Terrible as some of their actions were, it is hard not to see them as victims, too. It is extraordinary that Lindhout was able to see them in this light, even in her darkest moments.
This book opened my eyes to life in Somalia, the desperation and the poverty. The hold that warlords and Islamic fundamentalist groups have over the people, and the reasons men might have for kidnapping a westerner. It makes current news stories more real. Lindhout’s kidnappers kept threatening to sell her to al-Shabab, the group that was responsible for the attack on Westgate Mall in Kenya.
Teens mature enough to handle the content will learn a lot, empathize with Amanda Lindhout, and enjoy a book that is part harrowing thriller, part inspirational survival story.
Adult/High School–Growing up in Alberta, Canada, with a single mother, Lindhout dreamed of traveling to the exotic locations she read about in National Geographic. She moved to Calgary at 19, found work as a waitress, and soon took her first vacation, to Venezuela. Three or four months serving drinks financed five or six months on a backpacker’s budget. Guatemala and Thailand were followed by solo travels to Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. She met Nigel, a photographer, in Ethiopia. She decided to try freelance photography and headed to Somalia where there would be less competition, convincing Nigel to join her. Despite hired security, they were kidnapped and held for ransom. Governments refused to pay and their families argued. Lindhout writes powerfully of the months of captivity that followed. She tells about their captors, both the leaders and the teenage soldiers who guarded them, brought them food, and taught them the Koran. Eventually, they converted to Islam, hoping it might protect them. Things got worse after an escape attempt. Nigel allowed the blame to fall on Lindhout, and she was placed in a dark room by herself for weeks. She was beaten and sexually abused, and her health declined. Near death, she created a house in the sky that held everyone she loved. There, a voice told her that even though her body was suffering, the rest of her was fine. Teens will appreciate Lindhout’s honesty about her weaknesses. They will envy her early carefree travel experiences, recognize the naïve recklessness that led her to endanger herself and others, and be amazed by the forgiveness exemplified by her current work establishing a school for Somalian refugees in Nairobi.–Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart. New York City