Amanda Lindhout said she did not write her best-selling book, A House in the Sky, about her violent 15-month captivity by Somali gangsters, to raise money or to help her healing process — although both were unintentional side effects.
Family members, who remortgaged a home and found other ways of contributing to the $1.2 million that freed her and co-captive Nigel Brennan from abductors in 2009, have long been back on their feet financially, said Lindhout.
“They received a lot of generosity from people very soon after my release,” she added, and don’t need proceeds from her memoir, which is in the Top 10 Best-sellers List for Canadian Non-Fiction.
As for therapeutic benefit, Lindhout admitted that co-writing the memoir, along with New York Times contributing writer Sara Corbett, probably helped her get additional perspective on the horrors she lived through, including torture and sexual abuse.
But healing was already happening through her regular sessions with a psychologist and the passage of time. “I would hope I am very intact,” said the Red Deer native and former Sylvan Lake resident — although she later admitted it’s an ongoing process.
“I expect I will be dealing with some elements of this for the rest of my life.”
Lindhout, who will speak about her book and take questions on Monday, Nov. 18, at the Lacombe Memorial Centre, said she started the memoir that took a while to complete because she wanted it to be a good, literary read in the hope her survival story would connect with people facing adversity.
“Human resilience and the (power) of the human spirit are enormous,” said the 32-year-old, who wanted to inspire the way she was uplifted by reading about Nelson Mandela and others who endured hardship.
“I survived 15 months and learned something about strength of mind and the endurance of the human spirit, and I thought there was value in sharing that.”
The former freelance journalist, whose stories appeared in the Advocate, describes her memoir as more than a snapshot of her time in captivity. “It’s a coming-of-age story about a young woman who … experienced a transformation. …
“I am more thoughtful now … and more selective about the places where I will go,” said the former “country counter,” who had previously travelled to Afghanistan, Iraq and other hot spots.
While Lindhout feels less reckless after her ordeal, she has not allowed her “worst-case scenario” experience to narrow her world.
She has returned to Somalia five times since 2011 (with ransom insurance and a private security company doing a risk assessment), to distribute aid during a famine and help her Global Enrichment Foundation establish educational opportunities for women.
“I still want to be somebody who’s exploring and having adventures.”
A few critics suggested her book might lead young journalists to take similar risks to launch their own careers. And Lindhout doesn’t discount this worry, but stresses it was never her intention to lead anyone into danger.
Other reviewers of A House in the Sky have criticized Lindhout’s inexperience as a journalist, and her seeming carelessness and disregard for consequences in going to Somalia.
“People (question) the decisions I’ve made, and whether or not I should have been there . . . and these are legitimate questions to ask,” said Lindhout. But she added that she’s been dealing with the same censure since her release. “Young people make mistakes — and I am self-aware of my mistakes. I would not encourage people to do what I did.”
With 95,000 copies of her memoir in print and plans for global distribution, Lindhout’s publisher, Simon and Schuster Canada, clearly believes in the power of her story. And so do many readers who have given her positive feedback on her memoir.
Lindhout said she’s hearing especially from other victims of sexual abuse who have told her the book “has encouraged them to engage in dialogue and look for ways of gleaning some insight.”
Her attempts to find empathy for her tormentors by examining their dysfunctional upbringings seems to especially resonate with readers, she said. “They can relate to the fact that people who hurt other people have also been hurt themselves.”
The one person Lindhout has not heard from is her co-captive and former boyfriend, Brennan. She said she sent Brennan a copy of her book but has received no response, which is not surprising since she’s heard he’s now sailing around the world.
The two, who have written somewhat differing accounts of what transpired in Somalia, stopped communicating a few months after their release. Estrangements are not unusual for people who have gone through an intensely stressful experience, she said, considering their shared traumatic history is what both are trying to put behind them.
Although A House in the Sky does not paint Brennan in a particularly good light, Lindhout said she bears him no ill will. But she still struggles to find forgiveness for her captors.
Lindhout, who remains single although she wants to start a family someday, believes the media coverage of her book has often made the act of conferring forgiveness sound simplistic and easy.
“I still wrestle with a whole range of emotions” — including anger. “But I choose to focus on cultivating forgiveness” she added — even though on some days it’s more possible than others.
Striving for it is always important, said Lindhout, because it’s the only way to move forward.
She’s speaking as part of the Murray Martin Speaker Series. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and her presentation, followed by question-and-answer period, goes from 7 to 8 p.m. A book signing and reception, featuring wine and hors d’oeuvres, is from 8 to 9 p.m.
Ticket are $40 ($35, seniors/$25 students) from Bailey’s Pharmacy, the Lacombe hospital or Mary C. Moore Library.