Review: A House in the Sky

houseTitle: A House in the Sky

Author: Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett

Publisher: Scribner

Published: 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4560-6

 

A House in the Sky is the profound and incredibly moving memoir of Amanda Lindhout, a young woman, born and raised in Alberta, Canada and driven by a desire to always travel and discover the world anew. She backpacks around the world, travelling in places that many people dream of, but never see. Years into her travels, she finds herself held captive by Somalian rebels and her life changes forever. Held in captivity for 460 days, suffers greatly at the hand of her captors and resorts to desperate measures to try and protect herself and gain her freedom.

This won’t take long, because I don’t think there is much to critique. There is no doubt that Amanda Lindhout is an amazingly strong and brave human being. I’m not the same person walking away from this book that I was before I opened it. It is amazing to me that she was able to share her story so openly in this memoir, but I feel privileged to know her unbelievably traumatic and amazing story. I understood her years of travel around the world and craved to be in her place. I cried through the final 200 pages of the book as I struggled to digest the brutality and cruelty she faced. A House in the Sky brought a roller coaster of emotions for me. It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything this fast where I was so emotionally invested.

What I liked:

The story contains images of a notebook Amanda kept in secret printed on the front and back covers. I loved this additional paratext because it gave a small sense of her state of mind and her comprehension of her experiences. These pages had little meaning to me before reading the book, but once I finished, their meaning was paramount and it was a beautiful and personal addition to the text. Similarly, once chapter contains a transcript from a transcontinental call between Amanda’s mother, her captors, and Amanda herself. The transcript connected with me in its anguish and its desperation. It added an intense reality to the book. I would have really loved to see other transcripts, news clippings, or images incorporated throughout the text.

What I didn’t like:

I loved reading about Amanda’s backpacking travels, but it takes 16 chapters (over 120 pages) of this before we get to the central story. From an analytical point of view, I thought that these first 15 chapters help the reader to establish a connection with Amanda and to establish her character and her personality, but I found that I began to lag  as it began to drag on a bit too long for my liking. It wasn’t fully necessary to spend so long establishing the story and building up the suspense. In the same manner, I found her years in captivity to become slow after a while. It was a very difficult thing to read and to comprehend and I fully understand her desire to share her story, but from a critical stand point, I think some of the chapters could have been eliminated or shortened to maintain the pace of the story.

Overall, this was an excellent book. I’ve read a lot of other stories of travellers, journalists, or peace workers being held hostage or for ransom–I find them simultaneously horrific, inspiring, and fascinating–but this is one of the best that I personally encountered.

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