Hey, babes! Tonight is our 2nd part discussion for our very first book club on AEE, featuring the book, A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout. I expressed at our first meeting for this book that it might be one of the best that I've read in years and now that I have devoured every last chapter, I know that it's true. I'd even dare to say that this has been my favorite book that I've ever read. I'm a huge sucker for true stories and this one, being as raw and as emotional as it was, tugged at my heart strings every step of the way.
Amanda Lindhout is an incredible story-teller and an inspiring human being. To endure the level of torture that she did in those 15 months and to make it out the other end an even better person because of it is such a profound accomplishment in itself. I think that women (and men) can learn a lot from Amanda's journey and take a few life lessons away from it as well. Bottom line: if you are going to read an autobiography this year, it absolutely must be this book.
I am anxious to hear what you all think about this true story and how you have been able to understand and relate to Amanda's experiences throughout it. So, grab your book, pour an extra large glass of vino (lets face it - it has been a long week), and let's get started!
1. When Amanda overhears a report of their capture on the radio, she writes of the feeling as “crushing. It was confirmation that our troubles were both real and deep” (p. 146). Why do you think this affects her so powerfully?
2. When Amanda is given an English-language Koran, it is the beginning of her “conversion” to Islam. How does Amanda’s relationship with Islam change throughout her time in captivity? As she reads the Koran and begins to understand it, and thus her captors, better, how does her awareness of her situation change?
3. Amanda reflects throughout the book on the strangeness of the relationships with her captors—even though they were imprisoning her, she attempted to feel compassion and understanding for them. Were you surprised that this was possible? Discuss Amanda’s relationships with Jamal, Ali, Adam, and the rest.
4. Nigel and Amanda’s relationship as fellow captives is at times extremely difficult. Discuss their different ways of coping. How did you feel when Nigel told Amanda to “just take this one”? Did you blame Nigel?
5. Throughout the book, and in particular during her captivity, Amanda uses mantras to calm herself. What does she find so effective about repeating simple words and phrases? Why do you think this kind of practice can be soothing?
6. On pages 220-221, Amanda writes about what being alone does to her mind, and refers to a kind of psychic energy that seemed insane before her captivity, but became more believable. What did you make of her account in your reading? Have you ever experienced this kind of psychic energy?
7. Discuss Amanda’s “house in the sky” (p. 292). How does this dream help her maintain hope, and survive?
8. Of writing notes to Nigel, Amanda says “…writing helped me to believe it. It staked some claim on the truth (p. 226)”. How does this idea relate to Amanda’s decision to write a book about her experience? How does Amanda’s relationship with writing evolve over her time in captivity (see also p. 364)?
9. How did reading A House in the Sky change your understanding of the role fundamentalist religion can play in a war-torn society? How did it change your perception of Somalia? What surprised you most in your reading?
1. I think that Amanda is affected so greatly by hearing of their capture on the radio because it confirms the depth and realness of her situation. Being in a country like Somalia with the level of terror and crime flooding the streets every day and hearing on a broadcast that your situation is among one of the worst, I can imagine, would be a truly frightening feeling.
2. Throughout Amanda's captivity, I think that the Koran mostly helped her to better understand her captors and also distract her mind from the worsening situation. She uses the Koran to educate herself more about the morals and rules by which her captors abide by. She learns what her captors think of as acceptable behavior and she attempts to mold herself by using it order to make herself more like them and gain compassion.
3. Even during the very last chapters of the book when Amanda's captors were regularly sexually assaulting her, starving her of nutrition, sunlight, and movement, and torturing and beating her continuously, she still managed somehow to have compassion for them. I was extremely surprised that this was possible for her to do given her circumstances. Amanda looked for reasons to explain why her captors acted out in these violent ways rather than directly blaming them for their actions.
4. Nigel and Amanda's relationship throughout the book is, in my opinion, the most compelling and dynamic. The problems that each of them faced within captivity were so different at times that it was difficult to feel as much compassion for Nigel as I did for Amanda. It was emotional to see Nigel not sticking up for Amanda, even mocking her with the boys on a few occasions. At the same time however, I didn't blame Nigel for what happened to Amanda when they were captured again after they had escaped into the mosque. My belief is that the boys would have blamed Amanda for the escape and treated her worse than Nigel anyway simply because she was a woman.
5. Using mantras to calm and relax your mind is a common technique for people, even in normal circumstances. I have tried this before and find it very soothing because it forces you to focus on just those words that you are repeating. I think that throughout Amanda's captivity, it was a way for her to stay strong by reminding herself that she would get through the torture. She used her mantras to block everything else out and just focus on keeping her mind healthy and maintaining control since she no longer had control over her body.
6. I think that what Amanda experienced as "psychic energy" was her body's way of responding to long-term isolation. Without her everyday outlets like talking to people, eating, learning, or exercising, she became more aware of her mind and her every thought. I think that it is possible that she became more mindful of her internal being as a result. I have not personally experienced this level of "psychic energy", even during hour-long yoga or meditation sessions but, I do believe that it is possible in an extraordinary circumstance like Amanda's.
7. The quote on page 291, "I tried to climb away from the shock of what my life had become", I think perfectly describes why Amanda created a "house in the sky" for herself. It was a way to escape from her body while she was being tortured or assaulted. The "house in the sky" that Amanda imagined and drew out in her mind mirrored what her real life was like back home before the kidnapping. Remembering all of the tiny, happy details of Amanda's prior life helped her maintain hope that her mind was the same as it had been before and that someday this "house in the sky" would be her reality again.
8. I've heard before that if you are ever unsure of an idea or you have a thought that you can't get out of your head, you should write it down because it helps you make sense of it in a bigger picture. Sometimes writing our thoughts down helps untangle them from our emotions and put things into perspective. I think that for Amanda going through something so life-altering, writing about her experience is a huge part of her healing process. My belief is that writing down the events of what happened to her probably help her cope with the fact that it truly happened and also help her move past it.
9. The role that fundamentalist religion can play in a war-torn society can be potentially dangerous, violent, and generally is negative for anyone who lives outside of those strict rules that are set. Religion dictates every sphere of their daily lives. A fundamentalist believes that their religion and way of living is beyond any form of criticism and that their rules should be forced onto others.
The single event that surprised me the most in my reading was when Amanda and Nigel had escaped to the city center and into the mosque. I could not fathom how this religious place was filled with so many people praying and yet only 1 woman did anything to help the two, obvious prisoners. They allowed Amanda and Nigel to be beaten right in front of them, in their most holy place of worship, and dragged away and back into their captors prison. It made me fully aware of the differences in a place such as Somalia in comparison to the United States.
Now it's your turn to answer the discussion questions! Leave your responses in the comments below and feel free to get the conversation going with your fellow book club babes.
I hope you all enjoyed our very first book club! Although our first book didn't produce the high level of turnout that I was hoping for, we are going to try again and grab those of you that have been on vacation or have been busy with Summer activities this past month. I will be holding a vote later this week on our Facebook page for what our next book will be so, don't forget to stop by and help narrow it down from our top 3 picks!
xo Anna Elizabeth
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