Amanda Lindhout is touring the world to promote her No. 1 bestselling memoir A House in the Sky — which is being turned into a major Hollywood movie.
It’s been an unbelievable, “whirlwind” experience for the Central Alberta native who, during her 15 months of being held for ransom by Somalian kidnappers in 2008-09, didn’t know if she’d have any future at all.
“It’s so amazing to see the crowds coming out to see me, fans of the book who have read it so closely,” said Lindhout. “I always think what a privilege this is. …
“I mean … six years ago I was locked up in a rural shack and was being held captive. For me to stand up on stage and tell people about what I’ve learned, and know that they want to hear it … (is) really lovely.”
Lindhout will return to Red Deer, where she spent much of her childhood, on Saturday, Oct. 11, to sign copies of her memoir and greet members of the public. She will be at Costco in Gasoline Alley starting from 2 p.m.
A House in the Sky tells of the trauma the former freelance journalist endured in Somalia while being held by Islamist bandits, including torture, sexual abuse, threats of death and near starvation.
But Lindhout believes her book’s life-affirming aspects, rather than its harrowing revelations, are the reason it’s been on the Canadian bestsellers list for the past year — returning to the No. 1 spot for the last four weeks.
“The response has been tremendous. The Canadian public is devouring A House in the Sky,” said Lindhout, who routinely receives a warm fan reception, including some women who’ve asked to hug her, after reading of her ordeal.
Lindhout insists she wouldn’t have co-authored the memoir with New York Times Magazine contributing writer Sara Corbett if she didn’t see undercurrents of optimism in her experience. “It’s a powerful story of a woman’s resilience and my hopes for peace.”
Hollywood actress Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is one of many readers who was touched by the memoir’s message of survival. Mara wrote to Lindhout telling her how much the book moved her, and how interested she was in portraying her if the memoir was ever turned into a film.
“The letter she wrote was so thoughtful, she had obviously read my book very carefully that she could reference such specific things,” said Lindhout. She recognized a “remarkable, humanitarian” quality in Mara, who had also travelled in Africa and was involved with non-profit organizations.
Lindhout, who formed the Global Enrichment Foundation to help educate the women of Somalia, spent a weekend with Mara and Corbett in Maine to talk about the prospect of a film adaptation of A House in the Sky. She began to see the actor as someone who could portray her on screen.
Once Mara received the go-ahead for a film project from Lindhout and Corbett, she got Annapurna Pictures on board. The female-run company that’s produced such acclaimed movies as American Hustle, Her and Zero Dark Thirty, made Lindhout a consultant on the film.
She has near-daily contact with writers working on the screenplay, and feels confident in the production company’s vision: “Everybody perceives that I’m the expert and they want to hear from me every step of the way.”
There’s no dates set yet for the film’s shooting, completion or release, as the script is still a work in progress. Another undecided is the location — although Morocco has been suggested as a stand-in for dangerous Somalia.
But Lindhout said “the wheels are in motion.” The project could have a fairly short turnaround time — or a couple of years, depending on how things go.
Meanwhile, her schedule is full: there’s work with her foundation, which is raising money for more scholarships for female students in Somalia, there’s her ongoing book tour, which now has dates in Europe, and Lindhout’s much-interrupted psychology studies at the University of Calgary.
Although the 33-year-old Canmore resident was honoured with an honorary doctorate from the U of C, she said she’s eager to earn her own university degree — and possibly continue her studies so she can one day counsel other torture survivors.
“It’s another way to make what happened to me meaningful. I’m always thinking: How can I take this and transform it into something that will help other people?”
She believes, “Your experiences inform you and you can use your life experiences, even if they are difficult or traumatic, to help someone else. I like to do that.”
Every positive event helps Lindhout put more emotional distance between her life now and her life then. But she still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which has been made more acute of late with news stories about the beheadings of journalists and aid workers by ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and other extremist groups.
“Some of the images can be triggering of PTSD,” she admitted.
Lindhout had great difficulty dealing with the murder of U.S. journalist James Foley, since his mother, Diane, had contacted Lindhout and her mother for advice while she was still trying to raise private funds for her son’s release.
The U.S. government, like Canada’s, does not pay ransom to kidnappers. But some European countries do, and Foley’s mother was told by private companies that work out deals with kidnappers that $5 million would probably buy Foley’s release.
Diane Foley was working to raise the money, but Lindhout believes time ran out. The journalist was killed after being held captive for two years.
It’s strange to think of her own kidnapping experience as being comparatively benign, but Lindhout believes her captors were more motivated by cash than by religious or political zealotry. “The treatment was terrible, but they were not as sophisticated an organization as the Islamic State.”
What’s happened to Foley and others “has been devastating to me. It brings back memories of my worst experiences in captivity, with the feeling of having to watch other families publicly struggle,” she said.
When Foley was killed, “it made me realize, once again, how lucky I am to be alive. I am really so lucky.”
Lindhout doesn’t rule out another writing project someday. “I feel I might have another book in me, down the road. We’ll see. … All things are possible.”