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Zen Peacekeeper.







No saint. No fearless hero.

Thursday, March 15, 2012 by Marianne Elliott

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One of the more uncomfortable things about doing humanitarian and human rights work is the (unearned) credit people give you for being more saintly, and more brave than others. It’s one of the reasons I included so much of my own (messy) personal story in Zen Under Fire.

So I was pleased to read this, from the official book reviewer of one of New Zealand’s major booksellers:

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 one of ‘Kerre’s Choices‘ this month. Which makes me very happy.

What made me even happier was that Zen Under Fire was #2 on the NZ Bestseller List for NZ Non-Fiction this week.



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9 Responses to "No saint. No fearless hero."

  1. Jemma says:

    Delighted for you – and loving reading the book.

  2. kathleen says:

    It is so great to see your book on the shelves, having followed your blog as you completed it! I am so looking forward to buying a copy (today!) and reading it! Congratulations on making the NZ bestseller list x

  3. holy crikey! number 2! you go you unsaintly writer you!

  4. Anne-Marie says:

    Awesome, Marianne. I’m glad your book is doing so well. Mind you, I’m not surprised. I sat down and start reading it as soon as it arrived in the post and devoured it in two days. It’s a fantastic read.

  5. Mary says:

    Go you! My copy arrived on Monday. Can’t wait to read.

  6. Thanks for sharing this, Marianne. It’s so true that doing “good” work seems to come with an assumption that you can handle anything, anytime. Glad to hear that you are getting recognized for the honesty of your story. Congrats!

  7. Lucy says:

    I am reading your book and loving how very real and honest it feels. You sound like you do currently, but you also sound younger and less experienced. It’s an amazing ‘before’ and ‘after’ effect to read the book with an authentic voice from 2006-2007 and to read your words now. What a writing success to be able to convey a consistent yet developing voice so well. Bravo! (p.s. I’m also delighted that you like chocolate and coffee and write about that here and there. It makes me like you, the book, and the story even more).

  8. Rae says:

    Marianne, I have just finished the book. I loved the way you were prepared to share the intimate details of your life, the honesty and capacity for self-analysis is amazing. I could relate to so many parts of it from my time with the UN in Cambodia, especially the isolation in the midst of so many, attitudes of the military towards civilians…I could go on and on. Well done – may you enjoy peace.

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