Review based on Advance Reading Copy (ARC)
Amazing true story, beautiful, horrific, courageous. I couldn't stop reading.
This book will take your breath away. From an abusive household in Alberta, Canada as a child whose escape is found in old National Geographic books, Amanda has no idea how much she is learning about escaping into her mind or how much she will need this in her future. Her future as she sees it is travelling to the many countries she reads about. After she and her brothers move with her mother to a safe house, she starts planning for a future to include this travel.
Amanda Lindhout's memoir is a masterpiece of how the mind can change itself whenever it needs to, how it compensates, over-rides, and deals with the worst kinds of trauma to keep lifeblood flowing. But not to get ahead of myself, first Amanda finds a way to earn enough money to finance a trip to South America. The first of many trips interspersed with coming home to work for more money. As a cocktail waitress, she has advanced through the ranks until she is in a place to earn high tips, enough to make a trip every year. This takes her to countries in South and Central America, Asia and Africa as what she considers a beginning to many more amazing places. The writing in this stage of the book is absolutely wonderful, bringing to mind all those National Geographics, while she backpacks her way through these countries, we feel we are seeing what she is seeing, experiencing what she is experiencing. She makes us feel what she is feeling, and it is consistently beautiful. Some countries like India and Pakistan she visits more than once, but then she begins to expand her horizons: Afghanistan, Iraq, Bangladesh, Ethiopia....
Between trips she turns again to cocktail waitressing, but her need to be somewhere exotic takes over every year, and each trip she gets deeper into dangerous territory. She travels fr a time with a freelance photographer, decides that next trip she wants to show the world to everyone. She becomes a freelance photojournalist, occasionally selling photos and stories to various papers and magazines. She has teamed up with Nigel, another freelance photographer, an Australian. When she decides to head into war zones, she asks him to join her and he semi-reluctantly does. Here the book shifts dramatically. It is 2008 and she has chosen to go into Somalia.
Once in Somalia, known as the 'most dangerous country in the world,' everything changes. Although at first she and Nigel are enjoying the relatively 'safe' city of Mogadishu, on the fourth day she, Nigel, and their drivers are abducted by extremist Muslims. Assuming that all North Americans are rich, their abductors set an impossibly high ransom, which their parents are unable to even come near to paying and their respective governments have no intention of paying. Thus begins their ordeal which will last for 463 days of captivity and isolation. Kept in one room at first, they pretend they want to convert to Islam as a way of staying alive. They are visited sometimes by their captors wanting to learn English, and to teach them the Koran.
As time goes by and their captors' demands are not met, they are moved from house to house, always in the dark. Nigel and Amanda escape from one of the houses and are recaptured. From that point on, the two are completely separated and are shackled; Amanda gets the brunt of punishment as a woman, which includes rape, beatings and torture but she is able to separate herself in her mind from what is happening, a product of her childhood days. She is kept in complete darkness, later she is also bound and gagged. As fever takes over, beatings and rape continue almost daily but she is now living in her mind and guided by a calmness brought on by what seems to be a voice and is able to use different approaches to this separation of her being and her mind. Her mind's eye sees a beautiful house, one that she constructs room by room, floor by floor, until it reaches the sky. A focus for survival.
When finally rescued, neither Amanda nor Nigel are able to comprehend the fact that they are free. They can't comprehend that the food they are given is meant for them, they are fearful it will be taken away or they will be beaten. Both are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and it will take a long time to learn how to handle that. It may never be gone. But Amanda has built that inner strength from her ordeals and although the fear is always with her, she becomes forgiving of many things, including forgiving herself. In the collaboration of writing this book, both Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett must have shared some very difficult and intimate moments, I can't even begin to know how hard this would have been. I commend both for how they went for it no holds barred.
In the Epilogue, we learn that she founds a non-profit organization, the Global Enrichment Foundation to help provide and support education in Somalia, and partnering with other groups, funding scholarships to thirty-six Somalian women attending university, among other projects. This book is gut-wrenchingly real, powerful, and well-written; although the memories and fears of the atrocities are obviously very much a part of her, she has chosen to move on with her life in a positive way.