Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett | A House in the Sky | Simon & Schuster Canada | Hardcover: $29.99
Reviewed by Stephen Puddicombe, CBC national reporter and King’s journalism professor
Amanda Lindhout had her dream come true at a very high cost.
The freelance reporter will likely make a great deal of money selling her story and probably the eventual movies rights. There is, however, great debate in the journalistic field about Lindhout and what brought her fame to some and infamy to others.
Recently Margaret Wente, of The Globe and Mail, wrote “narcissistic, recklessly naïve people like Ms. Lindhout are often their own worst enemies” and bring trouble to the people they work with, as well as their families and governments.
Chris Selley, of the National Post, called Lindhout’s work a harrowing story and beautifully written, and said it was easy for the Globe columnist to criticize Lindhout “from the absolute safety of her leafy Toronto neighbourhood.”
I wrote this book review from my cozy neighborhood in Waverley, Nova Scotia. But I have also been to Mogadishu. I have also been to many other war zones, such as Afghanistan and Iran. The difference is that I had the backing of the CBC. I have had extensive conflict zone training. I have been covering these conflict zones for 15 years. I know the Mother Corp. will come to my aid (at least I hope it does) if I am kidnapped.
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I believe Lindhout’s story was one of great horror: 463 days in captivity, rape and daily beatings became part of her life during this time. A House in the Sky details that horror by sending daggers of fear, shock and dread through the reader’s body.
The book is well written but it was difficult to read. It took me a couple of weeks to get through it. Not because of the difficult subject matter. It was more because I wondered how my journalism students at the University of King’s College, in Halifax, would react to the book. Would they read this work and think they could do it? Maybe take off to South Waziristan, Somalia or another under-covered conflict zone to make their name and perhaps some money?
There is no right way or wrong way to go about becoming a foreign correspondent. Every person covering wars, conflict or disasters take chances.
But what is at the root of Lindhout’s telling her story? Is it to warn people about Somalia? I don’t think so.
This story is about a person who hadn’t a clue about what she was doing and suffered, and will continue to suffer, the grave consequences of her actions for the rest of her life.
I can see how A House in the Sky would be interesting to some. It is well written and gut-wrenching. It did take a little too long to get to the point, but nonetheless, many will find this a good read.
It can be added to the growing list of books about kidnapped journalists: A Rope and a Prayer, News of a Kidnapping, American Hostage: A Memoir of a Journalist Kidnapped in Iraq.
The difference is that those books were written by experienced journalists who knew the dangers and knew what they were doing but ran out of luck. In contrast, Lindhout’s book is about a young woman who loved to travel and saw reporting as a way to finance that love.
She knew, once released, that her suffering would pay great dividends if handled properly, and that would explain why she refused all interview requests. She knew exactly what this tragedy meant to her future.
Lindhout has since returned to Somalia as an aid worker. She has set her sights on helping those who stole part of her life in the most hideous way. That sets her apart.
I know what it’s like to cover war, disaster. I know what it’s like to want to make a living reporting these events, and I know what it’s like to lose friends in the field.
I am not bitter. I am not mean spirited. I am at times cranky but not a crank. I am worried f.or the future of journalism when we put people on pedestals for being reckless, though well meaning.
I just hope my students, past and present, at the University of Kings College don’t use Lindhout’s book as a template to map out their careers because she paid far too high a price for her book, and far too high a price for a good read.
Stephen Puddicombe is a CBC national reporter who has been covering wars, conflict and disaster for most of his career. He also teaches researching journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax.
Photos of Lindhout and the book cover courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada.