Book Review: STRONGER THAN DEATH by Rachel Pieh Jones

Be sure to read the author interview at the end. Rachel shares some of her memorable moments while researching for this book. You don’t want to miss that.

STRONGER THAN DEATH by Rachel Pieh Jones

Genre: Biography/Memoir

My Review:

STRONGER THAN DEATH tells the story of Annalena Tonelli, a woman from Italy, who was passionate about serving the poor, especially those affected by tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa. If you should Google Annalena’s name, you’ll find that she pushed the limits in most everything to accomplish all that she was involved in and honestly became well known in the world of humanitarian aid work. She has been described as a humanitarian aid worker, a missionary, a nun, and a social activist, though after reading this book I don’t believe she’d claim any of those descriptions. Through extensive research and countless interviews, Rachel shares a much broader picture of who Annalena was as a sister, a friend, a co-worker, a mother, and yes a Christian working with what many would label as “the least of these”. Annalena struggled, but as her story unfolds we see that her faith and love for the people she served came from God alone. Interwoven throughout this biography is historical and cultural facts about the people that call the Horn of Africa home, but it is also a memoir of sorts as Rachel shares how she and her family were affected by Annalena’s murder. On top of all this, there is some journalist reporting, as Rachel shares her own thoughts and questions regarding some of the decisions that Annalena made. I believe that if you are interested in the Horn of Africa, humanitarian aid work, female genital mutilation, or Muslim/Christian relationships than you should read this book.

My Take:

I cannot lie – this is a must read for any adult. You will be challenged in the way you think and live your life. I highlighted many sections of this book because the quotes are THAT good. Rachel’s style of writing was so refreshing to me – the threads of Annalena’s life, the culture of the nomadic people, the hot topics that are still relevant today, and Rachel’s own life all woven together really create just a beautiful wall tapestry that can be read in a book. Because honestly, a beautiful life comes from what we learn and gain from the hard and challenging, and yes even suffering that we go through.

Interview:

I can tell you’ve done extensive research for this book. It not only covers the life of Annalena, but some very hard topics and places in Africa. How long did it take from research to final draft? 

 I kind of started the research, without knowing it, when my family moved to and then fled from Somaliland in 2003! But that was just research by experience. The actual digging in and finding people and documents and dreaming of a book started around late 2013 with some conversations with my research partner, Matt Erickson. At first we talked about a film project, but it morphed into this book. I was finally able to gain access to her family members and other key people in 2016 and sold the book in 2017.

Were their times you just wanted to give up? If so, how did you stick with it and finish?

So many times! But two in particular. The first was when it became clear that her family in Italy weren’t initially excited about this project and wouldn’t answer any questions or engage with me. But after a full year of slowly massaging that relationship, of explaining that my goal wasn’t to sensationalize but to tell the real story (which had been sensationalized and manipulated in the past, and this hurt them, so they stopped talking with people), and through the quality documentary Matt Erickson produced for the UNHCR about her life (again demonstrating that I wanted to be respectful and accurate), they were willing to talk with me. And once they opened up, they really opened up! Other people were then willing to talk with me, they shared papers and photographs and it was absolutely incredible. The second time was when it took me so long and so many rejections to sell the book. I went through two agents and multiple conversations with editors but nothing worked out, nothing felt right, until I found Plough Publishing. I think I just felt compelled to press on, convinced there was an audience for this and even simply value in doing the work, because of how I was so personally impacted by what I found – which started to find its way into the manuscript as well.

Of all the people you interviewed, of the countless places you traveled, who or what stands out most in your mind?  

Oh wow. So many. So many good, beautiful people. The exchange of some of her items – that really moved me. Maria Teresa, her best friend, gave me one of Annalena’s prayer books. And Antonio, who had been held hostage with her, gave me her red blanket. Both times, I cried. That people would trust me and share these treasures was powerful. In a way, it was like they were urging me to carry on her legacy – both through telling the story and in learning to live a little bit more like her – more love, more courage. Also, Elmi Mohamed, a nurse who worked with her in Wajir, to hear his stories about the Wagalla Massacre…and to see his continued service to his people in Kenya, it was powerful.

What genre would you label STRONGER THAN DEATH? I mean, it is a biography, but really it seems more than that.    

Biography, but also history, science, maybe spiritual? Memoir a bit…the largest term I use is narrative nonfiction, but to non book nerds, that doesn’t communicate a whole lot. Well, to this book nerd, it makes sense. I think that is one of the reasons I liked it so much because it was such a mixture of different genres.

Is there a story or an inspiration for the title?

Titles are so hard for me. We probably spent hours, days even, with list and lists and white boards and spread sheets, tweaking every word. Ultimately, it was the title Plough picked.

Do you mind sharing your favorite quote from Annalena?

She once said, about people doing humanitarian aid, “our coming here only has meaning if we are joyfully willing to be manure.” When I read that, I thought, WHAT?! Manure? That wasn’t what I wanted to be, for sure, in doing humanitarian work. And yet…she was right. To be effective, to truly help, we need to be humble, low, learners, we need to help other people flourish. She wasn’t just saying be like a pile of crap! But manure, at least in composting, also helps people flourish. So be low yourself, so that others can rise up and be great.

So, as I was reading Annalena’s story a few other names came to my mind: Amy Carmichael and Gladys Aylward. I didn’t think of them as the “Mother Theresa” figure types, but more that these ladies all had high expectations for themselves in living and working, but also for those who wanted to “help” them in the work. I find in them what Angela Duckworth wrote about in her book, GRIT. I see it in them. Any thoughts on this idea?

You know, her family balked at the term Mother Teresa, and I did at first too. It almost can seem cliché. But it also captures a certain way of life and character of being with just two words. And that helps, when talking about a book! She certainly had grit, she could be stubborn and hardheaded, which I think is often what is necessary to also be productive.

Do you think that other women from our generation or younger that will pick up this baton that these women had and carry it out in other parts of the world?                 

I hope women will pick this up, I know some Somali women themselves who are serving in the Horn – Kali for example, one of the girls Annalena took in, is now the headmistress of a deaf school in rural Kenya. I think there is a kind of push-back about race and colonial attitudes and I agree that white people need, myself included, to be wise and sensitive and humble. We have made so many mistakes and need to do better. But I don’t believe that means we, or black and brown people, shouldn’t do service across race and cultural boundaries. I think that is what makes the world beautiful – that we aren’t confined to one culture or one location or one racial community, but that we can learn to love and support and be supported by people different from ourselves.

Okay lighter questions… Do you have another project started or thinking about a new one? Can you share or is it too early for sharing. =)  

I do! I’m under contract for a second book with Plough, manuscript due in April. I can’t say a whole lot about it except that it explores similar themes but from a much more personal perspective. Ooh, can’t wait to hear more about this when you can share more.

Have you come to love the desert, yet? 

Haha! Sometimes. Isn’t that a terrible answer? I do miss Minnesota lakes though.

Thank you so much, Rachel, for your time and answers.

If you would like to learn more about this book, check out this book trailer. You can pre-order (release date is 10/1/19) your copy of STRONGER THAN DEATH at these locations: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indie Bound

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Book Review: BLACK DOVE WHITE RAVEN by Elizabeth Wein

BLACK DOVE WHITE RAVEN by Elizabeth Wein20190106_100135

Audience/Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction

Summary: Teo and Emilia are friends from birth. After a bird strike during a flying stunt performance by their mothers they become siblings. Em’s mother wants to follow her late best friend’s wishes: to raise Teo in a place where he won’t be judged by the color of his skin, the country where his father was from. Set in the 1930’s Em’s mother makes the decision to move to Ethiopia where she can raise her white daughter alongside her now black son in the peaceful countryside. But, as Italy moves to invade and war brews, both children, now in their teens, have to make a decisions about home and loyalty.

My Take: This book has so many layers to it. It is definitely a TCK/CCK book. Teo is half Ethopian and Emilia is half Italian. There are inner struggles of “home”, which is something most TCK/CCKs understand. Ms. Wein weaves prejudice into the lives of the children, but also into the lives of their mothers. It is just a good book that will make you think deeper about issues that are relevant today. As I read the bio of Elizabeth Wein, I came to realize that she understands the issues of TCKs because she was raised abroad and is now living abroad as well. I highly recommend this book not just because of the TCK/CCK issues that Ms. Wein attempts to tackle, but because it really deals with issues that are relevant today.

Your Turn: What have you been reading? Share in the comments below. I’m always looking for new titles to read.

Book Review: HOMESICK by Jean Fritz

HOMESICK: My Own Story  homesick

by Jean Fritz

Genre: Middle Grade Memoir/Fiction

Summary:

Jean Fritz shares her life as a child growing up in the middle of China during the mid-twenties. She longs to go “home”. To a place she has only read about in letters from her grandmother, a place where she can feed chickens. And though this desire grows stronger as the date for departure gets closer, Jean shares her love for the Chinese people, especially her dear Lin Nai Nai. As with any good story, there is trouble and heartache. Through the eyes of a ten year old girl, Jean shares about the unrest that was developing in China towards the foreigners. Jean also shares her confusion of how her parents reacted to the death of her baby sister. We get a glimpse into the heart and mind of a young child who experienced so much.  At the beginning Jean informs her readers that most of the stories are true, that all of the people were real, but the events are not in chronological order. As a NF writer, this was very important to her to clarify. 

My Take:

Jean Fritz is a TCK. If you want to see examples of grief, frustration, and raw emotions from a TCK, sprinkled with humor and wit, get this book. Yes, it’s written for a middle grade child, but it really is a beautifully written memoir of a young TCK. If I write too much more, I’ll have to write a spoiler alert. I cried and I laughed – maybe partly due to the fact that we used to live in Wuhan, which is now a large city that includes Hankou and Wuchang, two cities that play a huge part in this book. Or maybe just the pain of saying “good-bye“. Either way, it’s good.

*****

Next week I will be starting the series on “The Art of Letting Go“. If you would like to write a guest post you can go back to the original post for the details.

Book Review: OF STILLNESS AND STORM by Michèle Phoenix

OF STILLNESS AND STORM29492092-_sr1200630_

by Michèle Phoenix

Summary:

Sam and Lauren sell everything they own in the US to move to Nepal. It has been their dream to share the gospel to the distant tribes of the world. But, it wasn’t their son’s dream. Sam trek’s the mountains for weeks at a time. He comes home tired and smelly, but doesn’t want any luxuries because many in Nepal live in worse conditions. Lauren’s sense of adventure soon flattens after their move as she daily bumps along to work at job she doesn’t like, fights a losing battle with the electricity, and watches her son slowly change from the fun and happy kid to a teen who just exists and resents her for everything. As things tense up on the home front, Lauren has an online encounter with a friend from her past. Her isolation leads to disillusionment and soon things come crashing around her.

My Thoughts:

One of the reviews I read compared this book to THE POISONWOOD BIBLE, and I would have to agree. It brought out many of the same emotions I had as I read that book. Michèle Phoenix is a MK (missionary kid) and has worked with MK’s for many years. Her expertise and I’m sure personal experience gives this story the raw emotions that many who work overseas do not want to face. It asks the hard questions indirectly through watching this family try to survive while doing what they believe the Lord has called them to do.

I know that not everyone who reads this blog is a Christian, but I believe that the issues/themes in this book can be related to by anyone who is trying raise their family in a different culture than their own.

*I received my copy from a giveaway on another site.

Book Review: MARRIED IN MISSION

MARRIED IN MISSION: A Handbook for Couples in Cross-Cultural Service

20170531_154049by Alexis C. Kenny

 

Summary:

MARRIED IN MISSION is a handbook based on a blend of psychology and Catholic-Christian theology. As the title suggests, it is to help couples who work (or plan to work) in cross-cultural settings. After Kenny and her husband returned from working overseas, she realized that there was little to no help for couples. This resulted in her focus area for graduate school. In her extensive research, Kenny identified seven phases: discernment, preparation, realization, finalization, re-entry, and integration. These phases begin with the pre-departure stage and end with returning home. Each chapter offers insight and activities for the couple to learn and apply to their own marriages. This book is her thesis compiled into an easy to use book for any couple who plans to live overseas, are living overseas, or have returned home.

My thoughts:

I felt that the book and activities are very relevant to any couple living cross-culturally. Although I am not Catholic, I believe she explained clearly the terminology to those not familiar with the Catholic religion. I understood the concepts she presented. I liked that the reader could skip to the phase that was directly needed and not have to read the entire book to understand or gain personal insight. She also included many quotes from other couples interviewed, which helped to grasp the issues better.

The only complaint I had is towards the publishing house, and I think I know why they did it (to save money), but I feel the font is small. It made it hard to read. This is only a small complaint, but one to point out so you won’t be surprised (and for those of you like me,
have your reading glasses ready).

I do believe that this book could be used for any couple working cross-culturally, whether of the Catholic faith or not. There are some real gems that will help strengthen your marriage – and that is something, I believe, we all want in married life. Strong and happy marriages.

Book Review: LOOMING TRANSITIONS Amy Young

LOOMING TRANSITIONS: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service

by Amy 28256660Young

Summary: LOOMING TRANSITIONS is a navigational book to help those who are in the process of transitioning in a cross-cultural setting. It does not tell you what to pack or not to pack, but rather the emotional process that goes with big moves. Amy has lived this cross-cultural life and repatriated to her home country of the United States, so she understands all the ups and downs. She has also written a workbook for individuals to accompany the book, as well as, an activity book for families to help their children work through the transition.

My Thoughts: I bought this book last spring and just finished right before Christmas. It isn’t a long book, nor is it boring. In fact, I enjoyed Amy’s candid transparent voice as I read. It took me over seven months because my mind could only handle chunks at a time. I needed to process some areas from many moves ago. Reading this book brought to mind thoughts and feelings I had regarding those moves. I’ll be honest, I haven’t read the workbook or the activity book all the way through – but by just glancing at it I know that I will be using them both when we make our next move (which I pray isn’t too soon).

And as I was writing this review, I found out that it is the one year anniversary for this book. If you’d like to read more about how this book came about and receive some coupons for the book (one being a free audio download!), visit Amy at her website The Messy Middle.

Book Review: Pack-N-Go Girls Series

I was asked by Multicultural Kids Blog to read and write a review for a fairly new book series called Pack-N-Go Girls by Lisa Travis and Janelle Diller. My interest was peaked, of course, by just the name of the series. As I read the background of how this series began, I was curious to see how well these books might be suited for kids who live overseas, TCKs. At the moment they have six books that explore three countries: Austria, Mexico, and Thailand. They will be starting the research this year for the next two books that will be located in Brazil.

I decided to read the first book in the series, Mystery of the Ballerina Ghost. 

Summary:

Brooke is from Colorado. She has the opportunity to travel to Austria with her mother, who has a short term job assignment at a castle. In Austria she meets Eva a girl not only her age, but who also lives in the castle with her grandfather. Though they become friends quickly, Brooke soon discovers that the castle may possibly be haunted by a ballerina ghost. She and Eva spend their free time to uncover this mystery.

My Take: 

What child doesn’t like a mystery? I felt the mystery was intriguing enough to cause the young reader to keep reading. I did feel that the reader would learn a little bit about Austria without feeling like it was a geography lesson. I liked that at the end of the book there are a few pages with learning simple German phrases, as well as some important facts about Austria. Overall, I thought it was a good early chapter book for children ages 6-8.

As for TCKs, knowing that Brooke was not staying, but only there for a few months at the most, I felt it didn’t really deal with many of the issues that TCKs deal with. So in that respect, I can’t recommend it as a book dealing with transition. BUT, I would definitely recommend it for those who are going to Austria (or any of the other countries they write about) on a vacation or a short visit. I do think it was well written and had some great facts about the country.

 

Book Review: ARRIVALS, DEPARTURES, AND THE ADVENTURES IN-BETWEEN

ARRIVALS, DEPARTURES, AND THE ADVENTURES IN-BETWEEN

by Christopher O’Shaughnessy

Published by Summertime Publishing, 2014

Here’s a book that is truly one of a kind on the subject matter of third culture kids. As a military kid, Christopher O’Shaughnessy understands living between worlds and cultures, while trying to figure out the identity as a third culture kid. He has a gift to write in a way that words on the page seem to just come to life. His memorable stories are hilarious, and yet at the same time they drive a point that will be remembered well after the book is put down.

To read the rest of this review at CLEW, click here.

If you’d like to read a different review, click here to read the one on Goodreads.

 

Book Review: RED BUTTERFLY by A.L. Sonnichsen

RED BUTTERFLY

by A.L. Sonnichsen

Description:

Kara lives with her American mom in Tianjin, China. Her mother brought her home eleven years ago after finding her abandoned, but for reasons Kara doesn’t understand or fully know they are not able to travel too far outside their small apartment, let alone move to Montana where her dad lives. After her older sister comes to visit, unpreventable events occur that causes a domino effect in Kara’s life. She uncovers answers to her questions and learns to thrive in new, and sometimes quite scary, environments. The story is told in moving (sometimes to tears) verse.

My thoughts:

I’ve included this book on my list of TCK books because Kara is a TCK. From the beginning you sense it. She’s Chinese, but her mother is American. She looks Chinese, but feels American on the inside. Isn’t that what a lot of our children feel like? The author knows this feeling because she herself grew up in Hong Kong.

It’s also an adoption book – as there are some deep issues touched upon. We “hear” Kara’s thoughts about all that is going on around her: her fears, her questions, her sadness. I think I’ll let the book show what I’m trying to say. You’ll get an idea from this excerpt – which is one of my favorites.

Misplaced

On my way home,

like always,

I inspect

each

passing

face,

realizing

one of them

could be

her.

Sonnichsen understands adoption as well as a mother can. She and her husband adopted their oldest child while living in China.

I totally recommend this book, especially if you have internationally adopted. It is truly a good read. My only warning is that you set time aside, as it will be hard to put down. It seriously is that good.

Book Review: Dutched Up! Rocking the Clogs Expat Style

DUTCHED UP! ROCKING THE CLOGS EXPAT STYLE is a compilation of short stories and articles written about living as an expat in the Netherlands. The stories come from women who have and are living there as foreigners. These stories are well-written and very entertaining – even to this expat who does not even live in Europe.

I truly believe that if one finds his/herself moving to the Netherlands that this book should be on their list to read before moving there. The stories in this book are not just entertaining, but helpful to those learning to navigate through the culture, the language, food, and yes even help with the washing machine manual. I found myself wishing I had had a book like this for living in Asia when I first made the dive into living abroad.