Not only is Marianne Elliott a beautiful writer, she’s a courageous truth-teller. Zen Under Fire takes readers on a breathtaking adventure through war-torn Afghanistan and an equally perilous place – the human heart. I can’t stop thinking about the brave stories of peace, justice, and love.
Brené Brown, Ph.D., New York Times bestselling author of Daring Greatly
This book touched my heart, soul and intellect. Marianne is vulnerable and fearless in offering this sincere account of her experience in Afghanistan. She asks important questions and does not shy away from complex issues with no clear answers. Marianne takes the reader on an intimate journey that is raw and inspiring. I enjoyed every minute of it!
Hala Khouri, M.A. Co-founder of Off the Mat, Into the World
In Zen Under Fire, Marianne Elliot doesn’t just settle for narrating the dangers and dramas of her time as a human rights officer in Afghanistan, she displays uncommon skill in exploring the complexities and contradictions inherent in working across cultures and a rare and soulful vulnerability about her personal struggle to forge balance and find love along the way.”
Lisa McKay, author of Love At The Speed Of Email
This is an amazing book, kind of like if Eat, Pray, Love had happened in Afghanistan and the stakes were life and death. Marianne’s story about diving into yoga, meditation, and compassionate action in the most war-torn parts of the world is touching, relatable, informative, and, to boot, fantastic storytelling. While falling in love with her, we learn about what stops us from putting it all out there in the name of peace and where true courage comes from.
Susan Piver, New York Times best-selling author of The Wisdom of a Broken Heart
This is a poignant and uplifting story about finding resilience in the midst of intense suffering, written with genuine understanding and care. Marianne Elliott has written a very special book, both compelling and inspiring.
Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Happiness and Lovingkindness
I could not put this book down. I could not stop thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it. Marianne’s story plunged into my heart but made me see I can make a difference, too. There is magic in these pages. Please read this book.
Jennifer Louden, author of The Woman’s Comfort Book and The Life Organizer
I have a policy of not starting a book until I’ve finished the one I’m reading. With Zen Under Fire I broke my own rule. As soon as I picked it up to have a little rifle through, I found myself reading. It kept drawing me back, and if I’d had the time I would have read it in one sitting. Some people don’t realise, when presented with a book like Zen Under Fire — which flows so beautifully, which draws us in with just enough evocative detail to set a scene without overwhelming our imaginations, which conveys complex information about a political and social situation in a country we have never been to — that good writing doesn’t just happen. Marianne wrote this book not just with the honesty for which she will be praised when people read it, but also with an absolute lack of cliché, with precision and with skill. To take something so abstract as the feelings she experienced at the time, and to serve them up so evocatively, takes remarkable talent as a writer.
Rachael King, author of The Sounds of Butterflies and Magpie Hall
Rachael King has been enthusing about [Zen Under Fire] and now that I have had a chance to read it I must say I totally agree with her comments and also with the publisher’s description – “This is an honest, moving and at times terrifying true story of a woman’s time peacekeeping in one of the most dangerous places on earth.”
Graham Beattie – Book reviewer, Former Managing Director/Publisher of Penguin Books NZ Ltd
I’d always imagined people who sign up to work for the United Nations in trouble spots around the world to be supernatural beings – part saint; part fearless hero. But New Zealand lawyer Marianne Elliott’s account of her time spent stationed in Afghanistan is the story of a very real woman trying to do her best – and often failing. She tells of the constraints of working for a monolithic organisation – the red tape, the safety regulations that put her under virtual house arrest and the politics involved in even the simplest request – and the kindness of the people of Afghanistan who accepted her into their community and may have helped her more than she ended up helping them. In fact, she wrote the book in part to move beyond media representations of Afghanistan as a country of alien beings, perpetually fighting one another and the rest of the world. And with this, she has succeeded. The locals Elliott meet come across as courteous, dignified and desperate for a better life for their children. And Elliott herself offers a searingly honest account of her own personal and professional struggle to do one of the toughest jobs in the world.
Kerre Woodham, book review for Paper Plus
Zen Under Fire is a beautifully written book. Marianne Elliott does a wonderful job of combining a moving personal story with a fascinating account of her work as a UN human rights officer in Afghanistan. The book also opens up an interesting conversation about the place of compassion in conflict resolution. Highly recommended.
It takes extra courage for conflict writing to be vulnerable & free of flamboyance. This is a book written lovingly. It is clear that the author took the utmost care to treat her subjects with dignity and respect, to steer clear of common cliches in writing about the UN, conflict-oriented work or international development, and to share her truth, no matter how unusual or personal that may have been. I read this book in one sitting and will be turning to it again and again.
Roxanne, Conflict Management Specialist
Daily life for those called to serve in Afghanistan, as aid workers, journalists and diplomats, can be stressful, intense, and at times frightening. But along the way, we encounter individuals in this fascinating country, Afghans and expats, who leave an indelible mark. ‘Zen under Fire‘ tells the story of one woman’s journey — and for those of us who’ve worked there, it reflects our own journeys back to us. This book also tells of our companion spriritual journeys. Most of us think we can’t let ourselves fall apart. But sometimes we do anyway. And then we need to learn how to put ourselves back together again.This book is a valuable guide to expats returning from Afghanistan or still working there, to learn to sit with their fears, work through their experiences, and in the process become whole again.
Deborah L. Sisbarro. Deborah served at the U.S. Embassy Kabul 2008-2009 and was seconded to NATO 2009-2011.
I can’t remember the last time I read a book in full, all of my attempts at reading lately have failed miserably. But I finished Zen Under Fire, and I wish I hadn’t had to finish! Marianne has woven a most beautiful tale. In my humble opinion, she has certainly fulfilled Fahim’s wish. Through the international media’s portrayal of Afghanistan over the years, I forgot there were real people behind the stories. Afghanistan has been portrayed by-in-large as such a bad place where bad things happen that it’s hard to see that good things happen there. With Zen Under Fire, Marianne has brought back a positive human element to my perception of this place. I will never watch a report about Afghanistan with the same muted perspective again. It’s a lovely book.