In August, five years ago, I had just had Alex and was spending most of my nights awake, in a bleary, exhausted post partum haze and began following Amanda’s story. Late at night, I would search the internet for updates, hoping for good news, reading blogs that claimed to have answers as to where she was and wonder how on earth she would survive in such a desperate place. Amanda, prior to her kidnapping, was living a life that I found terribly appealing – travel, writing, adventuring…and then to have it snatched from her like that was heartbreaking. Her story would not leave me.
459 days after that day in August, Amanda and Nigel were freed. I celebrated with a glass of wine that night, willing that Amanda would be okay. Freedom finally, but what kind of survivor would it take to overcome the days and lifetime lost in captivity?
See, Amanda, upon her return, did not disappear into the shadows. She took her experience and decided to create change that would directly impact the lives of the very community and country that so changed hers. Far from spewing hatred towards her captors, Amanda took a road of forgiveness ( admittedly not an easy one ), recognizing that her captors were born into the violence they inflicted on her and that no good could come of any of her suffering and loss if nothing changed.
Amanda, months after returning home, founded the Global Enrichment Foundation. Originally focusing on educational initiatives for women in Somalia, this foundation continues to create development and aid in Somalia and Kenya to this day.
This is the background that I had, upon opening ‘A House in the Sky‘. I think I anticipated a harrowing account of her time, with well chosen words but with things left unsaid. Perhaps that is what I had hoped for, because sometimes not knowing grants you a certain permission to not feel as deeply as you should.
What I fell into immediately was the honest and raw story of a woman and her family. From the opening chapter, Amanda threw away any pretense of dancing around her life and how she ended up where she did and, ultimately, where she is today. Her story details the depths of loyalty and love and how you survive when both are challenged in ways you think unimaginable. And when the unimaginable becomes the reality, how Amanda finds the way to keep her mind and self intact is a testament to the strength of women in turmoil and desperate times everywhere. The idea that there is a house in the sky for every person, a place so filled with love that it’s non reality overshadows and envelopes the sadness and pain of a reality is beautiful. What drove Amanda into the rooms and hallways of that house in the sky will leave you shaking and angry.
I thought I knew Amanda’s story. I saw her speak in Ottawa a few years ago, and actually ran into her in the washroom before her talk. She had just come from an interview, where the interviewer had pushed her on areas of her captivity that she was not sharing at the time, admitting that the event had thrown her a bit and that she needed a minute to regroup. Her honesty and reaction to this unkindness ( my word for what the interviewer did ) but willingness to continue with her talk that evening should have been an indication of the power that this woman has inside her. Amanda went on to move an entire room of people minutes later, speaking candidly and with a raw hopefulness that astounded me.
This raw voice of hers is found in ‘A House in the Sky‘. And it is powerful. No detail of her captivity is left wanting…you can smell and taste the rooms where they were held, you can feel the pages of the books she turns. Amanda writes about a woman in her book, a stranger who fought for Amanda with no thought for her own safety, acting with the understanding that to not act would have been such a great wrong, that the sisterhood they shared, even as strangers, was valuable and undeniable. You can see her eyes. Amanda honours this woman with her foundation, hoping that kindness and education ( and aid and development ) will somehow shift the terrible situation that produced the terror Amanda lived. And survived.
There is so much more here, in this book. Friendship, love, choices, determination, self worth, the drive to survive is all bound up in a terrifying but ultimately freeing story. And that it was and is real? Experienced by a 27 year old Canadian woman? Almost unimaginable.
Go anywhere. Fall in love. Make mistakes. Be kind. Forgive. Know that you are strong enough. Make change. Be hopeful. These are the thoughts I am left with, after closing the book. There are others of course – the baseness of human brutality, cultural realities that scare me, how governments work in our lives, the role of women in society, the feeling that there is so much work to be done in so many places. In all this, Amanda leaves her readers with hope, hope for change and hope that despite what she has been through that life holds for her so much more yet.
I have never written a book review before. I hope that I have not held back too much on the story that Amanda and Sara have shared. Many details can be found on the internet and in newspaper clippings, but the depth of what this woman has survived should be experienced. Many of you have followed this story for years, with me. Know that the full story only moves you more deeply.
‘A House in the Sky‘ will be released on September 3rd, 2013 and you find out how to get it here