Amanda Lindhout's memoir on surviving torture

LINDHOUT.jpgAmanda Lindhout was captured in Somalia in 2008 while working as a freelance journalist and held captive for more than a year. (Canadian Press)

First aired on Q (10/09/13)

Amanda Lindhout's story is a harrowing one. In 2008, the then 27-year-old Canadian freelance reporter was kidnapped in Somalia, along with Australian photojournalist Nigel Brennan and their Somali translator and driver. She spent 15 months in captivity, where she was abused and tortured. Lindhout has detailed her story in a memoir entitled A House in the Sky. The book takes the reader beyond the horrific details of her captivity and into her newfound passion for humanitarian work. She discussed her memoir with Q host Jian Ghomeshi in a recent interview.


A House in the Sky begins with Lindhout's impoverished childhood in Alberta. She said she felt it was important to start at the beginning and describe what events in her life led her to go to Somalia. When Lindhout was growing up in Alberta her family could never afford to travel but she had a keen curiosity about what was beyond Canada. "I think at the essence of it was wanting to explore and see this beautiful world we live in."

By her mid-20s she had already travelled to Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Lindhout explained that she was able to go to so-called war-torn countries because she built up confidence over years of travelling. "The more you keep pushing those boundaries and crossing those lines and nothing happens it's just easier to keep going and going," she told Ghomeshi.

In her book, Lindhout addresses the criticism that it was misguided to travel to the countries she went to without proper training and institutional guidance. "I don't think I'm unusual in that in my 20s, like many people, I felt invincible."

Her sense of invincibility eventually led her to Somalia. Lindhout's plan was to spend a week covering a story as a freelance journalist at a camp for internally displaced people. It was on her third day there that she was ambushed. "That's when the life I had known to be mine up to that moment changed forever."

For months she was held in chains, repeatedly sexually assaulted and abused by a group of teenage captors. Lindhout explains she used a variety of survival strategies to cope. These included everything from converting to Islam "to trying to humanize my captors and attempt to converse with them and let them understand who I was" she said. Lindhout said her most effective strategy was drawing on her inner strength. "The book is called A House in the Sky because during the very, very darkest times that was how I survived," she explained. "I had to find a safe place to go in my mind where there was no violence being done to my body and where I could reflect on the life I had lived and the life that I still wanted to live."

Eventually Lindhout was rescued. She has struggled to forgive both herself and her captors, but believes it's important to do so. "Forgiveness is something I aspired to [for] myself, not for them, as a way of letting go." she said.

But she also feels it's important that the experience doesn't hold her back from continuing to travel. Now she travels to do humanitarian work. Lindhout has even returned to Somalia through the Global Enrichment Foundation, a charity she started. "Because travel has always been such a vital part of myself and so essential to who I am, I have made the decision to continue to put myself back out into the world," she said. "And that's not an easy decision to make." 

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