Usually, I read travel memoirs or stories about what it was like to live in a country during a certain time period. For some reason, all of the books on my list didn’t appeal. I stumbled across A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout on a blog listing the best female travel memoirs, though this story only starts out as a travel memoir. I recently talked to another woman about how easy it is to relax too much when traveling. You hear horror story after horror story of all the things that can go wrong as a woman in another country. Then, when you arrive and none of it is true, you feel invincible. I imagine that’s a little how Amanda felt at the beginning of her journey.
A House in the Sky is a memoir about Amanda, a young Canadian woman, who decides to save up all of her money to travel the world. Every time her bank account dries up, she heads back home to work in high end restaurants earning as many tips as she can for her next trip. She decides to push herself to the limits by choosing bolder and bolder countries to visit. After enjoying Pakistan post 9/11, she decides to visit Afghanistan believing that nothing will go wrong. Soon she ends up working as a freelance writer, photographer, and reporter covering the war. After gaining little momentum in Afghanistan, she decides to double down and visit a place with little competition and lots of stories to be told. She heads to Somalia.
“Here is the rule of proximity: You get to one place, and it becomes impossible, basically, not to start looking at whatever else is nearby. Climb to the top of one mountain, and you see the whole range. If you make it as far as Cambodia, what’s keeping you from Malaysia? From Malaysia, it’s just a little hop to Indonesia, and onward from there. For a while, the world for me was like a set of monkey bars.”
After just a short time, her and her ex-boyfriend/coworker get kidnapped for ransom. I wasn’t familiar with her story prior to reading the book, so I had no idea how it ended. Obviously, I knew she’d be set free, but I really had no idea how long she’d be held hostage or what she would go through. Her story is often suspenseful, at times terrifying, and horrifyingly sad. I cried when she gets the chance to speak to her mom on the phone. I wanted to throw up when she was tortured or abused. It’s written brilliantly and makes you feel like you’re right there next to her. You want to reach through the pages to give her a hug, to tell her, “You’ll be okay.”
Somehow, she manages to use everything she’s ever learned in her reporting to manipulate her captors. She decides to convert to a Muslim and reads the Koran, which tells her every rule that her captors must follow. She describes it as their user manual. When they nearly starve her, she realizes that if she fasts for a day, they have to give her dates and bread to break the fast. She uses long greetings, which must be repeated back out of respect in order to slow down her captors when they storm into her room.
On top of being cunningly smart in the most hostile environment, she learns to let go of regrets and most of all forgive. She forgives Nigel (her ex-boyfriend) when he blames her for an escape attempt that was his idea. She even forgives her captors, knowing that their past has been filled with war, death, and hatred. At one point she has an out of body experience while being beaten. “What I saw was three people suffering, the tortured and the torturers alike.” Most importantly though, she forgives herself.
This is definitely a must read for anyone who has been on the road for a while. I think we all get a little too comfortable when nothing has gone wrong for a long period of time. This book reminds you to appreciate everything you have and not to take safety for granted.
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