Review: A House in the Sky

houseWell, I certainly can’t blame the weather for the fact that I’m behind in my reading! January has been blustery and frigid in a way that Toronto has not been in eons. And yet, I haven’t been able to curl up and hibernate this month – life has just been too busy!

That being said, I was doubly successful this week. Not only did I finish my second book of the year, but it was also my first non-fiction book! One down, and four more to go, unless I go above and beyond my goal of five non-fiction books this year.

The book I read this week was A House in the Sky, co-written by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett.

The memoir details Amanda Lindhout’s kidnapping by the jihad, and the year she spent imprisoned in Somalia with her travelling companion, Nigel Brennan. I am fairly certain that this was the first memoir I have read – at least since my undergrad, maybe ever.

 

This unfamiliarity with the genre, and my general aversion to non-fiction, may have coloured my feelings toward the book. As such, I will begin this review with a disclaimer: I have some difficulty enjoying books whose characters are difficult to relate to. Please know that it is not my intent to criticize Amanda or her decisions, but my feelings toward her do impact my review of the book.

Corbett and Lindhout did an amazing job with the writing; A House in the Sky was masterfully written and contained some beautiful prose, which hasn’t always been my experience with non-fiction. The book attracted me immediately. Not only is the cover beautiful, I was hooked upon reading the description: I have a strong affiliation to tenacious women out in the world, pursuing their goals. I also have personal problems with the way that certain religions oppress women, and I wanted to commiserate with her and learn more about why this was being done.

Unfortunately, Amanda was fairly young when this happened to her, and many of the steps that lead to her capture were entirely preventable. Her naivete and poor decision making were frustrating, because as a reader you know what is coming. She starts travelling the world after stints in Canada saving money – becoming a vagabond to escape an unhappy childhood and an absence of direction in her life. While abroad, she meets and observes photographers and journalists and determines that this should be her career path – to do what she loves. After difficulty breaking in with no education and little experience, she heads to Somalia. She figures if she can’t find a job where there’s competition, she’ll go where others are afraid to go, despite warnings from her mother, colleagues, and travel companions. This is her critical mistake. Within days, she and her travel companion Nigel are kidnapped at gun-point along with their 3 Somali guides. She is trapped, held for ransom, and eventually raped and tortured by her captors.

Let me be infinitely clear: I would not have been able to survive what she went through.

And yet, the book reads as if Amanda survived with a zen-like calm, a fiercely positive force, who was held for over a year before ever thinking of suicide. Her insistence on humanizing her captors has probably helped her to heal in some way – but it made me ill. I don’t know whether this is a characteristic of the genre, or a result of what I’m sure must be extensive therapy upon her release, but as a reader – I wanted her to explain what she was feeling, viscerally, and I didn’t get that from the book. Maybe it was not something she could share in that way, which, after gaining even a smidgen of understanding of what she went through – I understand. That being said, as a reader, it leaves you wanting.

I would have liked to hear more about her current endeavours, which she touches on briefly in the epilogue. It appears that she has grown into the tenacious, goal-oriented person she hadn’t yet matured into prior to her capture, and she is accomplishing so much with her life.

All in all, I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. I wish all the best to Amanda, and I hope that life is much kinder to her from now on.

3 of 5 stars

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