A House in the Sky, The Price of Life – book reviews

A House in the Sky by: Amanda Lindhout, Sara Corbett
The Price of Life by: Nigel Brennan, Kellie Brennan, Nicole Bonney

In 2008, Canadian journalist Amanda Lindhout and Australian photographer Nigel Brennan were taken hostage in Somalia. They were held captive for 462 days before being rescued. Each of them penned their own books about the experience and so I chose to read them concurrently to get both perspectives.

A house in the skythe price of life

A House in the Sky: A Memoir was written by Amanda and Sara Corbett, who is a contributing journalist for The New York Times Magazine. Amanda grew up in a dysfunctional family in Alberta, and dreamed of travelling to the far-flung destinations she read about in National Geographic magazines. As a young woman, she waited table in Calgary restaurants to fund her travels – with aspirations to become a famous journalist. It was on one of these early trips that she met and became involved with Nigel Brennan. He was married at the time, but their relationship continued on and off. They met up in Mogadishu to cover the war in Somalia, and in a turn of tragic events (the kidnappers actually meant to abduct a crew from National Geographic who were staying at the same hotel) – they were captured and held for an initial ransom of $3 million dollars. The book is a very detailed, and often graphic recollection of the cruelties that Amanda suffered – her treatment was far worse than Nigel’s simply because she was a woman. She was beaten and raped, and then blamed for it because of her gender. Amanda also suffered with the knowledge that both Canadian and Australian governments had policies about not negotiating with terrorists. Her family had limited financial resources, and as such, the ransom seemed unattainable. There is no self-pity in the book, Amanda often admits that her decision to travel in volatile Somalia was unwise. Fortunately, after 15 months – Amanda and Nigel were rescued. Lindhout now lives in Canmore Alberta, and is the founder of GLOBAL ENRICHMENT FOUNDATION – providing Somalian women and girls with opportunities to empower themselves through education, training, and economic capacity building.

The Price of Life was co-authored by Nigel Brennan, his sister Nicole Bonney, and sister-in-law Kellie Brennan. Each chapter was written from a different author’s perspective – which made it slightly disjointed. The book was one-third about Nigel’s experience in captivity, and two-thirds about his family’s vocal frustration with Amanda (they blamed her for Nigel being in Somalia), Amanda’s family (they had access to less financial resources than the Brennan’s), and the Australian & Canadian Governments (no terrorist negotiation policies). I found this book to be a bit offensive and somewhat disrespectful. It was self-serving on the family’s behalf, with a lot of petty, nasty and shallow comments. Though Nigel does admit that he was treated far better by the Islamic hostage takers than Amanda.

Comparing the two novels, I would say that A House in the Sky has the underlying themes of survival and eventual forgiveness.
The Price of Life shows the strength of family and the lengths you will go for the ones that you love, but the authors spend too many pages assessing blame and criticizing others.

Of the two, I would definitely recommend A House in the Sky, as the better written novel.


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