June has selected a memoir by author Amanda Lindhout for our May read. Click here to read the NYT Book review.
A House in the Sky. Amanda Lindhout’s story starts as a breathless travelogue, inspired by National Geographic: as a kid in rural Alberta, Lindhout scavenged bottles to buy thrift store copies of the magazine, escaping through its pages from a violent home into a vast, vibrant world. In her twenties, she sought out every amazing place she’d always wanted to see, then kept going, loving the rush of pushing beyond the next border. Travel became her education, and a desire to make it her vocation as a freelance journalist draws her to Afghanistan, Iraq, and finally Somalia, where a hungry young reporter with guts might make a name for herself. Lindhout’s hubris can be frustrating: intellectually, she knows Somalia is the “most dangerous country on earth,” but she still talks her former lover, freelance photojournalist Nigel Brennan, into coming along. By this time, both of them have moved through so many unpredictable places unscathed that the possibility of real peril is a hazy abstraction, and their abduction by armed extremists comes as a shock. As their captors hold out for a ransom of $1.5 million, Lindhout and Brennan defensively convert to Islam and try to remain sane through covert communication, but after a botched escape, Lindhout endures severe torture and repeated rape–and survival means drawing on her every reserve. Written with uncommon sensitivity (by Lindhout and cowriter Sara Corbett), A House in the Sky becomes a moving testament to her ability to cultivate resilience and a kind of spiritual transcendence, even in profound darkness. Witnessing her experience left profoundly grateful for everything I have, more sharply aware of how I choose to react to circumstances beyond my control. Most of us will never live a day like the 460 Lindhout spent in captivity, but we all have our trials, and we can cultivate our own resilience. —Mari Malcolm