People tend to remember where they were and what they were doing at poignant moments in history; 9/11, princess Diana’s death, 7/7… I remember all of those. I also remember coming home from work one night to the news that Michael Jackson had died. As the television played scenes of his body being wheeled into an ambulance outside his home, I changed out of my work clothes and poured myself a glass of wine. In Somalia, Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout was listening to the same news over her captors’ radio; whilst chained up and in total darkness. In her memoir ’A House In The Sky’ she recalls hearing the singer’s name repeatedly, mixed in amongst the Somalian news report.

Although we all know that at any given moment there are many people suffering whilst we live our day to day lives, this common denominator; this insignificant shared event of hearing a breaking news story gave me a sudden pang of guilt over my (then) ignorance of her situation. I suddenly felt a loathing for the way I had sat down on my sofa and moaned about the long day I had had. This reference to such a specific moment in my memory, and perhaps yours too, sharply reminded me that this is not a novel; this is the retelling of what was Lindhout’s torturous reality.

’A House in the Sky’ is the ultimate survival story. It takes you to the darkest places within the human psyche and reveals, not only the extreme evil that we humans are capable of, but also the resilience, kindness and fortitude. Lindhout offers a studied look at the inner workings of a Islamic fundamentalist group and describes the effects poverty and war can have on an already volatile situation. There is also much to be gleaned from Lindhout’s travel and work experiences, particularly for anyone considering conflict journalism. For anyone else, the many descriptions of her time spent exploring numerous beautiful countries will inevitably awaken the back-packer within.

It’s a story that will stay with you long after you have turned the last page, for a vast array of reasons, but most of all because you will be inspired by Amanda Lindhout’s courage, ingenuity, humanity and honesty in this emotional hurricane of a memoir.

Reviewed by Francesca Bassenger. With thanks to Penguin.

Review overview