“A House in the Sky” by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett held me hostage for two days. I couldn’t stop reading the terrifying account of Amanda and Nigel’s kidnapping in Somalia.
I felt their fear when their captors forced them into a Jeep and locked them in a room with two small mats and mosquito nets. I visualized their anguish when their captors shackled their ankles just in case they tried to escape. I cried for Amanda’s torture and rape.
I understood her religious conversion and her clever manipulation of her guards. When she and Nigel found ways to communicate after their separation, I rejoiced in their reunion and secret Christmas presents.
Mostly as I read this book I gasped. My husband watched me reading and continually asked me, “What is going on in that book? It’s like you’re not here.” And when I told him the story of Amanda and Nigel’s Somalia capture, he wanted to know the play by play. Each hour he saw me reading he asked, “Did they escape?” or “How are they doing now?” I hardly wanted to come up for air to explain it to him as I flew through the pages to find out what happened to Nigel and Amanda.
What, you might be asking, led to the capture of Nigel and Amanda, two amateur photographers and journalists, in Somalia? The story Amanda tells starts in her impoverished childhood where she dumpster dove for fun — rifling through the remnants of other’s trash to find treasures. As an adult Amanda sought escape and comfort in travel, and when she found her footing on foreign soil, she wanted the thrill and challenge of visiting forbidden places — Afghanistan, Beirut, Baghdad, Amman and Damascus.
When she received the opportunity to travel to Somalia as a journalist and photographer, she reasoned with herself that “there were stories here — a raging war, and impending famine, religious extremists, and a culture that had been largely shut out of sight.” She wanted to “do stories that mattered, that moved people” even with the impending danger and even with the knowledge that few reporters risked going to Somalia. As an Italian missionary on the fretful plan ride to Somalia told her and Nigel, “Be very careful in Mogadishu… Your head is worth a half million dollars there. And that’s just for your head.”
Even with the sinking feeling in her soul and the warnings from others, Amanda and Nigel forged forward to Somalia with the blind faith that their guides and press passes would protect them.
They didn’t last long in the harsh landscape of violence before Somalia reared its ugliness. Amanda and Nigel were captured and held hostage and thrust into a bizarre business world of negotiations, ransom, political maneuvers, religious extremists, fear and suffering.
I felt this book the whole way through, and rejoiced at the end of the story because ultimately Amanda’s story is one of hope, survival and forgiveness. I cried during my two-day “A House in the Sky” binge and got sweaty as Amanda and Nigel suffered at the hands of their captors.
When I finished the book, I sat still in front of my iPad for a few minutes — wanting to absorb the full weight of Amanda’s story. My husband asked, “So how does it end?” and I didn’t know what to tell him. I simply said, “Do you know how strong the human spirit is? We can survive anything. We just need to convince ourselves that we can.”