Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout

A House in the SkyA House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although not one for reading memoirs as a general rule, this one piqued my interest.

Amanda Lindhout was a young, Canadian woman who reached toward world travel as a means to feel autonomy and freedom from a child hood that was violent and abusive. Amanda briefly touches on her childhood, outlining the basic premises yet, I believe, leaving a lot unstated. This was a good literary call as she continues down her path. Without a clear end goal, she gravitates toward waitressing in high end restaurants where she discovers great tips and a world of travel. She works and saves money, quits and travels for a few months until she runs out of money, returns and repeats.

As a young woman, I did a much smaller version of this lifestyle. I went to college, then graduate school then rewarded myself with a summer abroad with a friend. In retrospect, I realize it was a way to distinguish myself as an individual from my parents. It was also a way to prove to myself that I could navigate the world like a grown up. If I could do this, certainly I would be a successful grown up. At least that is why I subconsciously did it. Yet the differences are stark between Amanda and myself. First of all, I needed to differentiate myself from my parents but only as a stage of growth. I had a good home, a solid education, and a career to return home and begin. My continent of choice was Europe where the culture differed from my own but not so dramatically that it would be a difficult adjustment.

Amanda makes no excuses for her choices. She began with relatively safer countries than Somalia yet drastically different from European countries. She was living on her own, had only loose ties to her family, and no career in mind. Somewhat untethered, she edged closer and closer to danger. In her own admission, she was somewhat taunting those who did not keep her safe when they should have. When her mother articulated concerns about visiting countries at war, Amanda's internal dialogue included a retort at how her mother did not protect her when she was small. Unstated was that Amanda would prove that she can take care of herself, no thank you, very much. This portion of the book is not told in a blaming manner but more of a background to describe where she was in her life and what drove her to make these decisions. In fact, I found her honesty and reflection insightful and very well articulated. She even admits that when she invited Nigel to join her in Somalia, she did so as a taunt; a currency she could use to measure his lack of commitment. Except he decided to join her.

The months spent in captivity are painful to read. She is being held hostage by a group of extremist Muslims who admit it is really about money. They adhere carefully to the teachings of Islam - the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law. What this means is horrific hypocrisy and abuse. The experiences are carefully edited down to knowing only what the reader needs to know. It is not necessary to include robust descriptions of the horrors she endured yet enough is said to squirm. No matter what these men do to her, they feel blameless. It is Allah's will and it was foreordained. Plus, she is to blame. Being a woman in these extremist groups and countries has absolutely no upside.

Amanda not only takes the reader through experiences, she takes the reader through many of her eloquently written thought processes. She hangs on to hope with a doggedness and believes things will eventually get better. She reaches a depth of hopelessness that transcends anything else, after much solitude, self blame, prayers, beatings, rapes, even out of body experiences that defy explanation. She doesn't try to explain them but allows the reader to make their own conclusion.

Her writing style is both personal yet objective. I've read many memoirs where the author uses the book to work through the issues and it reads more like an adolescent diary than a professionally published book. There is a place for that activity and those interpretations and perseveration belong with a therapist in a therapy session. This book is the recounting of the painful, harrowing experiences by a woman who was held hostage, abused beyond comprehension, physically released, and who worked very, very hard to free herself psychologically and emotionally. She spends a sparse paragraph or two admitting to the psychological, emotional, and spiritual work she has done. My guess is that it is very sacred and personal to her and she doesn't want that portion of her life examined by critics, a journey that she has taken alone, meant only for her own healing.

I highly recommend the book if only to understand the larger issues at hand. Hostage for Ransom is not an isolated event. The Islamic woman is powerless. Two different issues yet they connect in Amanda's world.

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