Tag Archives: A House in the Sky

Somalia Capture Makes Unlikely Travel Inspiration

Destination: Somalia, Africa

Book: A House In the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett


When I was asked to review this book, I said no thanks.  After all, a book about a woman captured and held by rebels in Somalia is not exactly the best book to inspire travel.  Is it?  When the publicist mailed me the book anyhow, I set it aside while I reviewed books that better fit  A Traveler’s Library criteria.  Finally, I read A House in the Sky.

Time to confess. I was wrong.  In fact, if you read my list of Best Books of 2014, you saw  A House in the Sky at the top of that list.

This beautifully crafted memoir, despite its unnerving and repellant parts, is a good book to inspire people to travel and experience the world.

The outline– journalist held hostage in Somalia for 460 days in 2008–definitely does not tell the whole story.  Amanda Lindhout, who grew up in Alberta, Canadian always longed to be “out in the world.” In her twenties, she became a traveler and journalist who experienced this harrowing experience. Her co-writer Sara Corbett joined her in telling the story by presenting to us in a deceptively casual tone a deeply moving and inspiring and sometimes even humorous story.

Why would someone even BE in the most dangerous country on earth by choice?  Isn’t that just asking for trouble?  We learn enough of LIndout’s backstory to see her insatiable love of the discoveries made when traveling.  We see how her passion for getting beneath the surface of a culture leads her to more and more “forbidden” places.

Then she convinces an ex-boyfriend to go to Somalia with her to cover one more war.  In retrospect, she can see she was naive and unprepared.  Just as she is honest and unsparing in looking at her own actions leading up to that decision, she dredges up and relives for her co-writer and her readers all the uncomfortable, devastating, horrific days of being a prisoner.

The writers depict the situation with such sharp reality that we experience something totally outside our own experience.  The reader comes away feeling that they know exactly what it is like to be held in captivity in one run-down house after another by a gang of mostly adolescent boys. Of course we do not know.  Not really.

But that is the art of the writing in A House in the Sky.  Without glossing over the horrors, the authors present the day to day despair of the captives with enough selectivity that we think we know what they went through.

Amanda Lindhout was resourceful in captivity and never allows the captors to change who she is.  Even after all this, more than a year of not knowing what the next day would hold, until privately raised funds ransom her and her fellow captive, she continues to travel.

Instead of shunning the country that was the site of her most horrendous experience, she has established an education fund for Somalia youth, Global Enrichment Foundation. She returned to Nova Scotia to study international development. Instead of focusing on the young men who tormented her, she says:

My course of study was chosen in service to another vow, one made from the depths of the Dark House–that somehow I’d find a way to honor the woman who charged into the mosque to help me after Nigel and I tried to escape, who literally threw her body over mine and fought until I was dragged out of her arms.

When I think about Somalia, I think about her.

In this interview,filmed in October 2013, Lindhout explains why she still travels, including to Somalia. Lindhout says “Travel has always been a vital part of myself…the world is at its essence a good place.” The excellent interview is 19 minutes long, but you may want to set aside time. (And it does not spoil your experience of the book.”

Note:  The publisher provided the book for review, but this never influences my sharing my honest opinion with you.

I have included links to Amazon.com because it makes it easy for you to purchase the book. You need to know that although it costs you no more, I will make a few cents with every purchase through Amazon links on this site. THANKS!

As the cowboy said, “I’m so dang busy, I don’t know if I found a rope or lost my horse.”
I have read so many books that I owe you written reviews for. For your trips to Africa, Tucson, Russia and Boston. Here’s what’s coming–very soon, I hope:

A House in the Sky by Amanda LIndhout and Sara Corbett (my favorite book of 2014)


Fear the Darkness by Becky Masterman, published TODAY, Jan. 20, 2015.


Émigré by Paul Grabbe with Alexandra Grabbe, a Russian memoir


North of Boston by Elisabeth Elo, mystery, new in paperback



Stay Tuned.

10 Best Books of 2014

around the world globe and books
Globe and books. Photo by Bastien Vaucher,found on Flickr.com

Best what?  Best books to inspire travel that were (mostly) published in 2014 and reviewed at A Traveler’s Library in 2014. (Except for one that has been read and reviewed, but you just haven’t seen that review yet, okay?) I have not linked each book to its review because that irritates Google, but you can easily find them by typing the title or the author into the search bar up above on the right. And if you want to purchase your own choice of best books, check out that nifty carousel on the right hand side of the page toward the bottom. *

10. The Good Suicides and Summer of the Dead Toys by Antonio Hill.[Barcelona] In a statement that applies to both books, I said:

Hill, a psychologist, brings his knowledge into play not only in developing characters, but also in knowing how to interest us.

Most of this plays out in a city popular with travelers–Barcelona. As a traveler who reads, you’ll learn quite a bit about the culture of modern day Spain.

9. Black Lake by Johanna Lane. [Northern Ireland] I said:

Lane skillfully wraps you in the landscape and magically captures just the right tone for each character.

8. The Scent of Pine by Lara Vapnyar [Russia and Maine]. This book appealed to me not so much because of its specific place, but because it reflects Russian immigrant culture and contrasts Russian and American expectations. I said:

While this section is setting up the dissatisfaction and loneliness that fuels the action of the novel, it strikes me as an accurate portrayal of anyone who tries to adapt to a new country, not just immigrants from Russia to the United States.  And that includes Americans who try living in a different land as several books about moving to Tuscany, Paris or Spain  have illustrated.

7. Rage Against the Dying by Beck Masterman [Tucson, Arizona] I interviewed Becky Masterman and not wanting to give away the plot, I didn’t say much about the book. I said:

This exciting new mystery book features a hard-boiled detective. Typical of the breed.  Slightly older than the bad guys, but still a fighter. Disrespectful of authority. Drinks too much. Appreciates the opposite sex. Harbors some inner secrets that make for an interestingly flawed character.

But there the typicality stops. This hard-boiled detective is a woman.

6. Terminal City by Linda Fairstein. [New York City] This is the first of Fairstein’s mystery series I had read, which is too bad, because they each focus on a part of New York City, the country’s greatest tourist attraction. I said:

Fairstein has done enough research to fill a separate book about the history, the dimensions of the building , the tunnels, the hidden spaces, the art work, the homeless who live underground, the pattern of transportation in and out–moving people on foot and by rail.

5. Paris Reborn: Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build a Modern City by Stephane Kirland [Paris]  You knew I could not do a best books list without Paris, didn’t you?  This one takes you time traveling and I said:

Here is a book that entertains as it educates, and will give you a peek behind the pretty face of Paris.

4. Townie by Andre Dubus III [Massachusetts] Here’s another book that doesn’t really set the stage for the place you will visit today, but tells you about life in the past in a Massachusetts boyhood memoir. I said:

The amazing thing about this book is that although its subject is violence of a kind I have never experienced and it takes place in a world of poverty that makes me feel alien and overpriveleged, I could sink entirely into the life described.  That’s how vivid and enticing Dubus’ writing is.

3. The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian [Florence, Italy] (Pub. in 2013) Another author I only recently discovered and I have searched for another of his books that I might enjoy.  Not an easy task since he writes in many genres and I do not appreciate all of them.  Of this one, however, I said:

Besides the gruesome murders, there is a verboten love affair, universal distrust of neighbors, revenge motives galore, pondering of social classes and of course the who-is-next suspense of a killer on the loose.  It is rather amazing how much delightful reading is crammed in to this fairly short book.

2. I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira. [Paris] This one is a very personal choice, but I love fictionalized biographies.  There are times when the bare facts just don’t tell all. And I’m fascinated by Belle Epoque Paris (See Paris Reborn above). Of this alleged romance between Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas, I said:

Life among the artists of the Belle Epoque in Paris on the other hand swirls and sparkles just as you would expect in the midst of a gang that included a bunch of nobodies (then) who are artistic treasures (now).  We are treated to gossip about the Impressionists who were shocking the world with their rebellious style.

1. A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett. [Somalia]

You are going to have to wait a few days for the review on my top choice of 2014, but I can tell you right now the book is worth waiting for.  I didn’t want to review this book at first, because my criteria for A Traveler’s Library is that a book must make you want to go there, or shed light on a culture you visit.  It did not sound like a book about a journalist captured by Somali rebels and held prisoner for nearly two years would inspire travel. But…. (to be continued).


This is the 6th year that  I have done a list of best books, and I swear it gets harder every year.  What were your favorite travel-inspiring books this year?

* When you click on an Amazon link, because I am an Amazon associate, anything you buy earns me a few pennies. THANK YOU!