With the assistance of New York Times Magazine writer Corbett, Lindhout, who was held hostage in Somalia for more than a year, chronicles her harrowing ordeal and how she found the moral strength to survive.
In 2008, Lindhout, after working as a cocktail waitress to earn travel money, was working as a freelance journalist. In an attempt to jump-start her fledgling career, she planned to spend 10 days in Mogadishu, a “chaotic, anarchic, staggeringly violent city.” She hoped to look beyond the “terror and strife [that] hogged the international headlines” and find “something more hopeful and humane running alongside it.” Although a novice journalist, she was an experienced, self-reliant backpacker who had traveled in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She hired a company to provide security for her and her companion, the Australian photographer Nigel Brennan, but they proved unequal to the task. Their car was waylaid by a gunman, and the group was taken captive and held for ransom. Her abductors demanded $2 million, a sum neither family could raise privately or from their governments. Negotiations played out over 15 months before an agreement for a much smaller sum was reached. The first months of their captivity, until they attempted an escape, were difficult but bearable. Subsequently, they were separated, chained, starved and beaten, and Lindhout was repeatedly raped. Survival was a minute-by-minute struggle not to succumb to despair and attempt suicide. A decision to dedicate her life to humanitarian work should she survive gave meaning to her suffering. As she learned about the lives of her abusers, she struggled to understand their brutality in the context of their ignorance and the violence they had experienced in their short lives. Her guards were young Muslim extremists, but their motive was financial. Theirs was a get-rich scheme that backfired. “Hostage taking is a business, a speculative one,” Lindhout writes, “fed by people like me—the wandering targets, the fish found out of water, the comparatively rich moving against a backdrop of poor.”
A vivid, gut-wrenching, beautifully written, memorable book.