Amanda Lindhout took an unorthodox route into journalism.

From a poor background in Alberta, where she fished around in dumpsters for bottles to return to vendors, her fascination with the wider world was fuelled by copies of National Geographic. When she became a cocktail waitress, a job that came with substantial tips, her fantasy of travelling the globe became a possibility at last.

For her, the world was "like a set of monkey bars" and she "swung from one place to the next", gradually becoming an experienced, self-reliant traveller who could cope with most situations. Successful trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan, for all her mother's warnings, made her cocky. She moved into photojournalism and got a job on the Iranian equivalent of Al-Jazeera.

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By that point, she felt she could handle anything and embarked on an ill-fated trip to Somalia, which was complicated further by partnering up with an ex-boyfriend, Nigel Brennan, who was even more of a rookie than she was. Ambushed as they left Mogadishu, she and Brennan were held captive for 450 days, shuttled around various houses outside the city while their kidnappers negotiated a six-figure ransom. It was an experience so gruelling that it's something close to a miracle she made it out alive.

And with every moment seared into her memory, Lindhout gives us a painfully thorough account of her ordeal. She writes here of how, determined to survive at all costs, she faked a conversion to Islam in the belief that her captors would be more favourably disposed towards a fellow Muslim, although that didn't prevent her being raped and tortured as the weeks of imprisonment stretched into months. Vividly recalling her state of mind as she sought ways to make her captivity bearable, she recounts her troubled relationship with fellow prisoner Brennan and, in all its brutal detail, a dramatic, terrifying escape attempt.

Central to Lindhout's strategy of getting through her ordeal alive was building up a rapport with her captors, and even in the depths of despair she managed to summon up compassion for them. In this harrowing and unvarnished account, that's a bridge that her readers may find harder to cross.