Awhile back, when the book Unbroken first came out, I told my husband that I wanted to read it because I loved Seabiscuit and I knew what an amazing writer Laura Hillenbrand was. I didn’t know much about Louie Zamperini (sad to say) so I had not heard prior to this the depths of his suffering at the hands of cruel men. Bob read the book first, and then said something along the lines of, “So, Sue. This is no Seabiscuit.” The graphic details of Louie’s torture were all there on the pages of the book and he wanted me to know that. It is one thing to read a work of fiction and imagine the suffering of a certain character (like the mom in Room, for example). It’s quite another to read a piece of non-fiction and have to wrestle with the ponderous truth that everything you are reading is real. It happened.
What kept me reading A House in the Sky (other than it was my book club’s pick) was knowing that Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout survived the hell she was thrust into when she was kidnapped in Mogadishu and held for ransom for more than a year. I knew she survived because she co-wrote her story. Several times in the reading I found myself turning the book over to its backside to look at her beautiful author photo. You can’t write about an experience after the fact if you’re dead. When the telling got really hard to read, I’d remind myself, She lives, she lives, she lives.
I honestly don’t think I could have coped the way she she did. When I wasn’t stunned by the cruelty of her captors, I was stunned by her ability to hang on to hope. Hope is one of those invisible weights that we can only lift if we summon enough strength to do so. The harder the situation, the heavier it is to hold. Despair is easier. Despair is heavy, too. But it just overtakes you. You don’t have to do anything but lie there and let it fall.
So how did Amanda Lindhout keep hold of hope when despair was just waiting to devour her? She built a place in her mind to keep it. A place her brutal captors could not see and could not enter.
She built with her mind — the only thing she had left — a secret place for hope to hide. And it was this secret place that existed in her imagination that got her through the darkest days; days when I would have long given up.
She built a house in the sky.
This book is powerfully written and unforgettable. But it is no easy read. It is no Seabiscuit.
I still haven’t read Unbroken.