The committee that selected this year's book for the Fairfield Public Library's "One Book One Town" community reading project read through dozens of books before narrowing the selection to one.
Town Librarian Karen Ronald said she kept texting Mary Coe every few pages to say, "I think this was the one." Judging by the turnout and reaction of a capacity crowd Wednesday night at Fairfield University's Quick Center, they chose well.
In the seven-year history of the local reading initiative no other author seemed to have the impact on readers as did Amanda Lindhout, a 33-year old woman whose memoir, "A House in the Sky," was the One Book One Town selection.
Lindhout held spellbound the audience of more than 760 people as they listened to her spine-chilling tale of abduction in Somalia, 15-month captivity in rusty chains living in a "dark house" without the sky, without a breeze, enduring unimaginable horrors, and her eventual release.
They were enthralled has they read the book, co-authored by Sara Corbett, a contributing writer to the New York Times magazine, who joined Lindhout on stage and posed questions to her to set up various parts of the story. And they were mesmerized by Lindhout's survival and unbroken spirit, crying with her when she became emotional several times during the presentation.
"Collectively, if we could all get up and give you a hug we'd love that," one woman told Lindhout from her seat in the auditorium.
The audience gave Lindhout a standing ovation when she revealed that one of her kidnappers had dared to contact her on Facebook and congratulated her on all the good works she has done to feed and educate people in Somalia in the last 4½ years since her release, and she said she was glad her captors were aware that "what they did to me did not break me."
Lindhout said she chose compassion and understanding rather than hatred and anger, and although she lives with post-traumatic stress syndrome, she puts her "compassion into action" working to support positive change in that African nation where she was robbed of the sky and the breeze and her freedom. But she learned through her "extraordinary journey" inside herself that no one can take your mind or your spirit.
"I felt a shift in myself tonight as I listened to her voice tell her story. The words on the page are powerful, but to hear her talk was amazing," said Donna Orazio, president of the Friends of the Fairfield Library, which presented the program.
"A lot of people would have a lot of hatred. Instead of dwelling on that she wants to be a change agent," said Cathy Fell of Fairfield, who had both authors autograph her copy of "A House in the Sky" after the presentation.
Felicia Ingram of Bridgeport was on the waiting list to attend the sold-out program, and felt lucky to get a seat in the auditorium. She, like many others in the crowd, found inspiration in Lindhout's words and life philosophy.
"Anything that happens to you, you have to find forgiveness. When you forgive it releases you. I'm so happy that I'm here," Ingram said.
"The act of forgiveness; there's nothing greater," said Cathy Wyman of Fairfield.