I’ve had some great luck lately with travel books. Not books that are about traveling, mind you, although A House in the Sky certainly discusses Amanda Lindhout’s extensive travels to remote and exotic locations around the world; rather, books I’ve picked up to read while traveling. I hadn’t planned on reading House in the Sky this past week: I’d packed (the fantastic) The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker and the delightful (from what I’ve heard) collection of essays from Mindy Kaling, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? One longer book (Harry Quebert, which I immediately delved into) and a slimmer volume. Balance. Perfection. And then I accidentally got on a train to Boston without either of them.
Luckily, there was the bookstand at South Station to rescue me. My sister had asked earlier if I’d read House in the Sky, and while I answered I hadn’t, I did add that it had a starred listing on my TBR list. When I spotted it on the shelf just at eye-level, I took it as a sign and snatched up the last copy. And then devoured much of it on the way home.
I knew the memoir involved Lindhout’s international travels, to counties in South America, southeast Asia, Australia, and Africa. I wasn’t prepared for her travel escapades to comprise the first half of the novel – and since it’s a rather hefty book at 400 pages, that’s quite a bit of travel notes. Lindhout’s stories flowed well, though, so while I was impatient to find out what happened when she was taken hostage in Somalia, I was able to enjoy the stories of her adventures on their own. A good thing, given I wasn’t expecting so many.
When Lindhout did recount her time spent as a hostage of the Somali extremists, I was surprised by the grace and strength she showed both during her time in captivity and in the recounting of the ordeal. She and her collaborator, NYTimes Magazine contributor Sara Corbett matched well, and found a style that was both simple and lyrical. Punches weren’t pulled, but nothing felt gratuitous in a situation that very easily could have been written in a more salacious approach.
I also very much enjoyed the decision to break up stories into very short chapters or section worked well; I enjoyed being able to put down the book during the week to join in the conversation around me (because I couldn’t easily put the book down) or to stop and think about the passage I had just read (which I did often).
Amanda Lindhout’s story is one that resonated, one I know I’ll think of often. I discovered page by page a story of strength and hope and having the will to survive, how to push oneself far past where you ever should have to in order to survive. It’s about finding peace with what you’ve been given and learning to be who you need to be in the moment. That there were so many notes of forgiveness in Lindhout’s memoir astounds and humbles me.
Absolutely, this is a memoir you should not pass up. (4 1/2 of 5 stars.)