Where hope meets potential.
I love hearing how readers are moved and challenged and inspired by Stronger than Death. Some responses have even moved me to near tears.
I spoke at an English language school for adults in Djibouti. After my talk and an engaging Q/A time, students gathered in small groups to continue the discussion. One young man wrote his thoughts out and read them to the group. I asked if I could take a photo of his words and he gave me the paper. This is what he wrote:
“A good person is someone who displays love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, humility, patience, and she was faithful, and endures all things. Annalena was someone who displays self-control and considers others more important than herself. Annalena was a good listener and someone who displayed integrity and dignity and accountability toward others.”
This was so beautiful and it was incredibly meaningful that he picked up on these character traits. The conversation around the tables included things like how hard it can be serve, when other people tell you to not bother, or how disappointing it can be when service is rejected. We talked about how we can all take one little step, like picking up one piece of trash. Or how we can sit beside someone who is sick and be a loving, caring presence, even if we don’t have money to help treat their illness. And how we can hope to motivate others by our example.
It was lovely.
Here is from another reader. People have asked how I think Annalena would react to having a book written about her and I hope Jodie is right:
“I finished it with the sense that Annalena would be proud – even as one who didn’t like all the attention – because you portrayed her in her humanness as well as her saintlikeness.” Jodie P.
Someone else told me they finished the book with tears in their eyes and with ideas for how to be more aware of students in her classroom who might need a little extra affection or attention.
Another person told me she would use this book to help explain some of her Somali history and culture to her American coworkers.
Thanks to all for your feedback, for reading, and for sharing.
Don’t forget to leave a review and be sure to share the book with your friends and family! Maybe a great Christmas gift…!
Annalena Tonelli spent 34 years living and working in the Horn of Africa. Somalis loved her, and still talk about her with great affection, still carry on her legacy, still continue her work.
But someone killed her. Why?
Why did she stay so long as a foreigner, in the face of massacres, famine, tuberculosis, terror, and war? How did she build a strong local community across religious and racial boundaries, boundaries that today often divide communities?
This is not the story of a white savior, or is it? It isn’t the story of a saint either, or is it? Annalena was far from perfect but her example challenges us all to be a little braver. A little more loving. A little more willing to reach out to someone with empathy, faith, and action.
Here is what some early readers are saying about Stronger than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa.
I am blown away by the generosity and kindness of these people who agreed to endorse the book. They are people I respect, admire, am inspired by, and have learned so much from.
Rachel Pieh Jones has given us the unforgettable story of a servant of the sick and poor who demonstrated, to an almost incomprehensible degree, what it means to love the least of these. Few of us will ever come close to Annalena Tonelli’s devotion and bravery. But thanks to this remarkable book, we can be acquainted with one of history’s great and unheralded exemplars, and inspired to give more of ourselves to those without. —Tom Krattenmaker, USA Today columnist, author of Confessions of a Secular Jesus Follower
My life has been shaped by the examples of faith heroes: Dorothy Day, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X. In this book, Rachel Pieh Jones introduces me to one more – Annalena Tonelli. Her example of immersive, selfless service combined with learning from different traditions should inspire us all.–Eboo Patel, author of Acts of Faith, founder and president, Interfaith Youth Core
A stunning meditation on love and service, this book has given me a new hero: Annalena Tonelli, a woman of faith who crashed through boundaries and dodged bullets in her mission to heal the sick. Author Rachel Pieh Jones has done justice to an extraordinary person, crafting a story every bit as vivid, relentless, and surprising as her subject. Jason Fagone, national best-selling author of The Woman Who Smashed Codes
A meticulously detailed and empathetic work on a woman whose life should not be forgotten.–Mary Harper, BBC World Service, author Getting Somalia Wrong?
As well as telling a compelling story with great skill, this absorbing and clear-eyed examination of the work of one of East Africa’s greatest humanitarians, based on her letters and interviews with her closest associates, also highlights the cultural challenges faced by even the most dedicated worker. Rachel Pieh Jones raises questions about motive and consequence, as well as perception and jealousy, that resonate well beyond the fascinating life she describes.–Richard Barrett, director of the Global Strategy Network and former director of global counter-terrorism at MI6
Annalena Tonelli’s story challenges readers to believe in themselves and reminds us that we can choose acts of kindness and love even during difficult circumstances. Her courage inspires us to challenge evil: everyone can make a difference.–Mariam Mohamed, former First Lady of Somalia
“Jones explores the life of Italian aid worker Annalena Tonelli in this gripping biography... …Tonelli’s example of humility, asceticism, and loving with abandon will be a revelation…” –Publisher’s Weekly
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I wrote a book.
I’ve actually written many books, from the cloth-covered book about animals running a race I wrote in elementary school, to the several novels that are completed and gathering dust on my hard drives (for very good reasons!), to my self-published books the Djiboutilicious cookbook, Finding Home, and two editions of Welcome to Djibouti.
This coming book has been the work of my heart for almost five years. It is the biography of Annalena Tonelli, a woman who faced disease, terrorism, massacres, lonely isolation, and chose love over fear.
“People would call her a doctor, a missionary, and a nun. And they would call her a saint… Should Annalena be made into a saint? That was how I thought of her, at first. I only knew the high points in Annalena’s life. I knew nothing of the dark valleys, her secret and controversial compromise. I knew she had accomplished something remarkable, something about tuberculosis but also about love and faith…”
It is the product of collaboration with Matt Erickson, so many people I interviewed all over the world, those I followed and pestered, and the Plough Publishing team.
A few months ago I shared the book cover in my Stories from the Horn newsletter.
Now, I want to share the cover here, too.
You may have already seen it, if you’ve visited the Plough, Indiebound, or Amazon, but let’s make this the formal “cover reveal”.
Are cover reveal parties a thing? Like for pregnant moms and gender reveal parties? I feel like they should be, with balloons and a cake a fireworks. Well…oh well.
There is so much I want to tell you about the book, like who endorsed it and some behind the scenes stuff. Like how I’ve been changed through this project. Like how it feels to write a book while dealing with cancer. Like all the ways this book connects to current issues from Ebola to cross cultural relationships and humanitarian aid, to conquering fear and talking about race and faith. I love the way this woman turns these conversations upside down in surprising, even shocking ways.
But for now, here’s the cover! No drama, no explosions, no band playing in the background. Just me and my excited little heart.
(Number 1 new release in Kenyan History!)
You can preorder it here
What could be stronger than death? Only a love bigger than fear and bigger than hate. We need this message more than ever.