Our thanks to Susan Casey (author of The
Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean) for this guest review of A House In The Sky: A Memoir, by Amanda
Lindhout and Sara Corbett. A House in the Sky was selected as one of our Best Books of the Month for September.
Growing up in the small town of Red Deer, Alberta, Amanda
Lindhout dreamed big. She was a young girl with a curious streak the size of
the Rockies, and though her wrong-side-of-the-tracks provenance seemed to
promise only a flatline future, Lindhout decided to change her own fate. Out
there, she knew, beyond a horizon dotted with oil rigs and trailer parks, magic
awaited, a vast map filled with all things "lost or unexplored, mystical or
How did Lindhout know this? National Geographic. Paging through worn copies of the magazine,
she was transported to every spectacular place she'd never been: "The world
arrived in waves and flashes, as a silvery tide sweeping over a promenade in
Havana or the glinting snowfields of Annapurna. The world was a tribe of pygmy
archers in the Congo and the green geometry of Kyoto's tea gardens. It was a
yellow-sailed catamaran in a choppy Arctic Sea."
And so, fueled by waitressing wages and determination,
Lindhout's travels begin, at first in idyllic ways, then accelerating and
acquiring a degree of difficulty that would daunt any seasoned explorer. In
short order, Lindhout--working as a freelance journalist--ventures into places
like Kabul and Baghdad, Addis Ababa, the back alleys of Cairo, and then, finally,
Somalia, where the stakes become nothing less than life or death.
Lindhout's story is exhilarating and harrowing and several
other brands of extreme, and it would be riveting however it was told. But in A House in the Sky, readers will find a rare
and beautiful alchemy: writer Sara Corbett captures Lindhout's voice and spirit
with utter mastery on the page, and a kind of ferocious grace that I found
I know that's a strange phrase, ferocious grace. Lindhout's desire--her need, even--to live on all
cylinders burns bright in this book, but Corbett deftly reminds us that even
when chipping away at cement, "covered in grit and cobwebs," while attempting a
desperate escape from her prison, Lindhout is still that unassuming and hopeful
girl from Red Deer, Alberta. The one who wrote to her mother from India, "I am
going to Jodhpur. It is a city in the desert, called the Blue City, as all the
buildings are painted blue! I am having the BEST TIME EVER!"
In fact, it's Lindhout's contradictions that make her such a
rich character. She can be naÃ¯ve and driven, generous and opportunistic, ambitious
and fitful, sometimes all at once. At the same time she's heading for danger,
she's making friends. And even after she is taken hostage by an extremist
group, and her situation descends into darkness, she finds small measures of
beauty and even optimism in her captivity. And within that simple, brutal paradox,
Lindhout manages to stay alive.
What Lindhout endured during her 460 days in captivity is
difficult to absorb, but Corbett is brilliant with the telling detail, and her
writing is so strong that she can paint readers a vivid picture with only a few
is a true story of a young woman's radical adventures. It is absorbing and inspiring
and textured. It is terrifying. It illuminates. It is the best book I have read
in a very long time.