Each year, I set New Year's resolutions, and while I always have fun tackling the list, sometimes there are goals that unexpectedly cause a seismic shift in my day-to-day life. If you've been reading Pop.Bop.Shop. for a while, you know 2019 is the fourth year I have committed to staying home one weeknight per week because that change proved to be amazingly positive. This year, the resolution that is having the greatest impact so far is my commitment to read 24 books by December 31.
Since deciding to read two books each month, a few things have happened:
- I'm watching less TV, so that I can carve out more time to read
- I'm reading at night before bed instead of mindlessly turning on Netflix
- I'm choosing books that have been collecting dust on my bookshelf for years
- I'm reinvigorated about my own creative writing, by reading such a wide, varying array of styles
The book was first published in 2013, and my cousin's wife gifted me a copy in 2014 after she read it and loved it. We were talking about the book again last week and she said, "That is still one of my favorite books of all time. I can't believe it took you this long to finally read it!"
A House in the Sky is a memoir, based on Amanda Lindhout's experience discovering international travel, and her eventual kidnapping while visiting Somalia in Africa in August 2008. Amanda and her travel companion, Nigel, were held hostage for 460 days.
Knowing this (it says it right on the book jacket), as you're reading, you can't help but feel anxious. With every passing chapter I would worry, "Is this where it happens? How is she going to be taken?" It takes until page 128.
I want to rewind just for one second and say that Lindhout and Corbett are beautiful, descriptive writers. In the first 100 pages of the book they paint a picture of many foreign lands - Guatemala, Venezuela, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq - that have you feeling like you are tasting that air, feeling that heat, and wiggling your toes in that desert sand.
On page 75, they share the moment Amanda and Nigel reach the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia, after a long journey, "Upon arrival, Nigel and I disembarked from our animals, grinning with relief, stretching our backs and shaking out our some legs as if finishing up a pilgrimage, as if we'd come to some end-of-the-road auberge and were about to have ourselves a soapy shower and a three-course meal. Because that's the thing about the exact moment when you get somewhere that has required effort: There's a freeze-frame instant of total fulfillment, when every expectation has been met and the world is perfect."
I really love that last sentence, and it was clear throughout the book, that Lindhout was chasing that feeling of fulfillment with every new adventure.
After being captured in Somalia (while attempting to drive to a medical facility to interview the doctor doing this life-saving work there), Amanda and Nigel begin to endure some of the cruelest abuse and torture imaginable. There were times where I had to put the book down and walk away from it for hours because it was just too heavy.
As I was reading, I kept asking myself, "How did they survive this?" Lindhout shares some of the ways she continued to stay mentally strong, "As the weeks passed, I wished for things that were large and abstract - freedom, comfort, safety. Beyond that, my most specific longings involved food - plates of medium-rare steak, bags of candy, a cold beer in a frosted mug. I could pass two hours imagining one meal in granular detail, the ecstasy of making an omelet, for example, the chopping of a crisp green pepper, the sssss of butter melting in a pan, the lemony yellow of eggs beaten in a bowl. More than anything, I craved a hug, the chance to fall into the arms of someone, anyone, who cared about me."
Nearly 100 pages later, still in captivity, she talks about continuing to push herself to stay mentally strong, and in that moment, we learn where the book gets it title. She writes, "Lying on my mat, I found relief in visiting my house in the sky. I went there and tried to stay as long as I could. Inside the shelter of my mind, I cooked and ate and took care of my body. I made soups, salmon, healthy things. I imagined pickling fresh vegetables from a garden, or plucking oranges from the laden trees I'd seen long ago in Venezuela. This sustained me. It made all the difference."
Amanda and Nigel are eventually rescued, but by the time it happens, as a reader, you are so emotionally drained from following their harrowing experience, that it's hard to feel any relief. All I kept thinking was, "I can't believe they made it, and I really can't believe she was strong enough to relive all of this to write this book."
I don't know about you, but I always read the acknowledgements section of any book. I find it can reveal cool or interesting nuggets about the author. In the case of A House in the Sky, I was really moved by both women's acknowledgement of the other:
From Sara to Amanda, ". . . I'd like to express my love and gratitude to Amanda - for our three-year mind meld, for all you've taught me about being strong, for the many psychic miles we have traveled together, for the absolutely tireless way you have worked on every line of this book, for staying open, for being a friend. I treasure all of it. I'm proud of what we've made together."
From Amanda to Sara, ". . . to Sara, my coauthor, confidante, and friend, who saw the promise in this project from the very beginning. I am immeasurably grateful. Three years ago we took a leap of faith and began a long journey. Much more than merely writing, we lived this story a thousand different ways together. Without your meticulous intelligence, infinite patience, and precision, I doubt it could have been told. I have the deepest appreciation for your wisdom, your commitment, and your faith me in me. My life is infinitely richer because you are in it."
Now, if you didn't already think Amanda was amazing, you should know that after returning home to Canada to begin to recover from this extreme trauma, she founded a nonprofit organization called the Global Enrichment Foundation to fund education in Somalia. Yes, the very same country where she spent the darkest time of her life. She writes, "Several of the GEF's projects, including funding a primary school and the construction of a community library, are happening inside Dr. Hawa Abdi's camp, the same place Nigel and I had set off to visit on the day we were kidnapped." Talk about the power of forgiveness.