As an avid reader and traveler, I enjoy finding books that will not only entertain but educate me. Most books I read are not always the most pleasant topic matter and give a rather intense look at the world. I try to read a lot on women’s rights and current events around the world, and occasionally throw in a poetic piece of fiction for fun.

Last night I completed reading “A House in the Sky“, a harrowing account of Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout’s 460 days held hostage by Islamic fundamentalists in Somalia.  Co-authored by The New York Times Magazine’s Sara Corbett,  A House in the Sky is one of the most intense books I’ve read in years. A book that by the end, left me in tears.


Beautifully written in reflective, poetic prose the book starts off slowly with Amanda’s story of how she was raised by a dysfunctional, poor family outside of Calgary and how she used her money as a waitress to support her wanderlust and see the world. To be honest, there were many times over the course of the first 100 pages of Amanda’s back story that made me want to put the book away and stop reading. Oftentimes I find personal narratives a bit narcissistic and vain such was the case with reading the best-selling books “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Wild“. Yet something in Amanda’s story kept me reading it, wanting to get to the story of her abduction and subsequent 15 months in captivity by Somalian jihadists.

The transformation of Amanda over the period of her captivity was startling and with each page she exposes her deepest most personal being. Although she began as a young, unexperienced and naive young woman, through months of physical and emotional abuse and torture by her captors she somehow flourishes and perseveres. Her bravery, her courage and her humility are just as incredible as her story.

What horrified me the most about Amanda’s story is how her captors’ fundamentalist views of Islam justify everything they do to her. Fearing for her life, Amanda converts to Islam hoping it would offer her some kind of protection and connection with her young captors. Instead, her captors use their fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran to harm her and justify it.

When she was repetitively raped and tried to get them to stop, their actions were deemed permissible (in their interpretation of the Koran) by Chapter 23, verses 1 through 6 of the which states:

Successful indeed are the believers, who are humble in their prayers. And who keep aloof from what is vain. And who are givers of poor-rate. And who guard their private parts, except before their wives or those whom their right hands possess, for surely they are not blamable.

“For those whom their right hands possess” means slaves or people kidnapped. Basically Amanda’s fundamentalist captors believed that these words gave them permission to rape her over and over again for months leaving her bleeding sometimes for weeks.

She was held against her will, almost starved, tortured, raped and emotionally abused for 15 long months by these young men who seemed to rarely have remorse. Their actions of cruelty were deemed permissible.

Although there was also Nigel, a male captor, along with Amanda, his treatment during the ordeal was far better. While Amanda was often called a “bad women” and the cause of all the problems in every single thing, her fellow male captive was treated much better. He wasn’t forced into complete, isolated darkness for months on end, forced to sleep only on one side and kicked in the ribs if he accidentally fell asleep on his back.  He wasn’t sexually abused, isolated or tortured. Instead, he had a furnished room with sunlight, books to read and companionship with his captors at times. Yet throughout their horrifying ordeal, Amanda was always the strong one who fought for her survival against all odds.

After 460 days in captivity, Amanda and Nigel were shockingly released after their families coughed up $600,000 for their ransom. Amanda returned to Canada after being hospitalized for dehydration and trauma. One would think that this was where the story ends but it does not. Instead, Amanda stunned us all by founding the Global Enrichment Foundation to support development, aid and education initiatives in Somalia and Kenya, and more importantly, she forgives her captors. How she can not let the anger, humiliation, and emotional pain eat her away and instead feel compassion and forgiveness for her captors is amazing.

As the world becomes a scarier and more dangerous place, sadly Amanda’s story is not uncommon. Journalists and humanitarian aid workers are kidnapped and killed around the world. Like Amanda, I believe strongly in the power of education in our fight against terror and fundamentalism. War and violence are not the answer. Education and creating more opportunities for a better life will bring about hope for change. I think about what is going on in Nigeria and Pakistan, where Islamic terrorists are killing children and targeting girls to try to stop them from going to school. These men know that the power of a book is much stronger than the power of a gun. But we can’t let them win.

Want to learn more? Here are some fabulous resources:

Global Enrichment Fund

Malala Fund

Order the book on Amazon here




  1. You believe that “Education and creating more opportunities for a better life will bring about hope for change.” I agree with a word “hope” but I am sure that Islamic fundamentalists will fight all efforts to bring education and better life to their countries.
    Taliban is a good example.

    1. Yes I certainly do. Afghanistan has some of the highest rates of illiteracy in the world and it is proven that lack of education means lack of hope and lack of a better future. Many of these Islamic fundamentalist have very little education or hope for the future. Here is a good article I found particularly o. Afghanistan the breeding grounds of the Taliban.
      Malala the young Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban a few years ago simply because she was a girl and trying to get an education is a perfect example of the threat of education is to extremists. They know if more people especially women and girls are educated then things will change for them. This I do believe improving and providing access to education in these countries that have practically none is bound to improve the world.

      1. In America we have thousands of schools and universities and lately more and more people join Islamic extremists or want to join them. Can you explain this?

      2. I am not sure I can possibly compare America to a place like Afghanistan or Somalia. Nor can I explain why people in this country become extremists. I am no expert but am well read and work with lots of NGOs that share my belief in promoting education in countries that have very little democracy, education and governance. Any way this is just my belief. You are certainly free to disagree with me. Thanks for your comment.

      3. Also I forgot to add that the two winners of this years Nobel Peace Prize are fighters and advocates of education for creating a more peaceful world. One winner is Malala the very girl who got shot by the Taliban. World leaders understand the importance of education in achieving peace, fighting terrorism and creating a better society. Here is an article about it.
        Of course everyone has their own opinions, but I tend to agree that education helps. It doesn’t solve everything but it
        Can make a huge difference in the world. Just my humble opinion! Of course you are welcome to have a different one. That is why we live in a free country! 🙂

      4. I agree with you 100% that RIGHT education is important in creating a better society. But I lived in the USSR 40 years and was taught that America was an aggressor. In many muslim countries and in Russia today people are taught the same. Malala is a brave girl and deserves Nobel Peace Prize but some Nobel Peace Prizes were given to terrorists.

      5. Yes that is definitely true. Were you born in the Soviet Union? I do believe that many US policies like the war in Iraq caused such extremism. I was definitely not a Bush supporter and I know that our government did many other not so great things to support dictators. Politics is a business I would never want to be in! Knowing mankind I don’t think there will ever be peace. There will always be power hungry abusive people. I just hope there are less of them.

  2. What an incredible story… it sounds almost too horrific to read, as a woman, but at the same time completely necessary reading.. I’ve just added it to my “to purchase” list, thanks so much for the recommendation

  3. Wow. Thanks so much for that review – I’ve been eyeing the book, but am not sure I’m up to reading that kind of story right now. Amazing the turn around you describe though – forgiveness isn’t easy in the best of circumstances….

  4. Great and timely post, Nicole. I’m not sure if I would have been able to get through the book. I appreciate you writing about it…and I agree, we MUST continue to educate, and not let them win.

    1. Thanks Lola! It was really hard to get through the dark parts of the book. It made me so angry. Yet I’m glad I read it. We have the highest population of Somalis here in MN. I am going to read some more books about Somalia to get a deeper understanding of this complex place.

  5. As a Muslim, I strongly oppose of what the captors/terrorist did to Amanda Lindhout. Islam is a religion that promotes peace and I’m sad to see these Muslims doing terrorism because their irresponsible actions are not right at all. And they’re making Islam’s image even worse.

    Here’s a link to a video by a renowned Muslim scholar, Mufti Menk if you are keen to understand about Islam 🙂

    May God protect each and everyone of us :))

    1. Thank you so much Safiabi! I really want to get a better understanding of Islam and the variations of interpretation of the Koran. I think a lot of people ( not me of course!) wrongly believe all Muslims believe in fundamentalism which of course is not true. I want to educate myself more especially on Women and Islam. Do you have any good book recommendations? Thanks so much for commenting. I really appreciate it.

      1. It’s my pleasure actually. Have you ever heard of Yasmin Mogahed? She’s an incredible writer and wrote many inspiring books 🙂

        Here are some choices of books that I find very interesting

        Here are some links to great books:

        Hopefully, the links will be great help to you :))

      2. Thank you thank you!!! These are wonderful! I live in MN and we have the highest population of Somalis in the US. My kids are friends with Somalis so I would like to know more about their homeland as well as Islam. I will definitely check these books out. Thanks again

  6. Excellent post, Nicole. Thanks for bringing information about this book, and Amanda Lindhout, to our attention. The more we all educate ourselves, the more understanding there will be in this world.

  7. Thanks for your review. It is surprising how some people cannot over come the worst experiences while others can. I know I could not read this book. I would have nightmares although I love Canadian writers. I need something like A Boy of Good Breeding – Mariam Toews that had me laughing all the way through.

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