As a child growing up in small town Alberta, Amanda Lindhout found escape from the dank basement apartment where her mother often suffered beatings at the hands of her boyfriend in the National Geographics she bought from the local thrift shop.
Later, after years of travel in exotic locales, Lindhout would find herself in another dank room—this one in Somalia—where she was gang raped, beaten, and tortured. When her 15-month captivity ended, she learned that her kidnappers’ original target had been a reporter-photographer duo from National Geographic she’d met the day before she and her photojournalist partner Nigel Brennan, with whom she was working as a fledgling journalist, were kidnapped.
Of that time Lindhout has penned, along with writer Sara Corbett, a memoir of astonishing clarity and power. As fascinating as Lindhout’s description of the mental strategies she used to cope with her situation is her description of the dynamics between her and her jihadist teenaged guards and her and Brennan. The couple’s relationship had been rocky at the time of their capture, and though their mutual plight sometimes brought them close, their solidarity often foundered. The pair were physically separated after they converted to Islam in the hopes of receiving better treatment (an arrangement that facilitated Lindhout’s sexual assault) and Lindhout deeply resented that Brennan, as a man, was permitted greater freedoms while she was left shackled in a windowless room.
A chapter describing Lindhout and Brennan’s bold escape through a window whose bricks they surreptitiously removed Shawshank Redemption-style is one of the most breathlessly gripping accounts you’ll read anywhere (oddly enough, Lindhout describes the man who eventually freed her as a dead ringer for Morgan Freeman). At one point, Lindhout and Brennan burst screaming into a local mosque filled with worshippers in the midst of morning prayers only to be publicly dragged off again by their captors. The only person who came to Lindhout’s aid was a woman whose fate Lindhout still frets over.
Though they survived their ordeal, Lindhout and Brennan (who published his own memoir two years ago) are estranged; both take issue with certain things the other said while in captivity. Lindhout has, however, managed to forgive her captors, and unmartyrishly pinpoints the dire circumstances of millions of Somalis, including her torturers, as the story’s real tragedy.
—Emily Donaldson is a freelance reviewer and editor