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Stronger than Death Book Trailer

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.

       

Available from Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, and Amazon.

Thanks to Matt Erickson for providing video clips and photographs and to the Plough Publishing video team!

Stronger than Death Endorsements

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

A fascinating, powerful and extremely moving true story that needs to be shared with the rest of the world.–Jordan Wylie, author of Citadel and Running For My Life

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 

 

You can preorder your own copy here. Publication date is October 1, less than one month away!

*post contains affiliate links

 

Stronger than Death, Book Cover Reveal!

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

Plough

Amazon

Indiebound

What could be stronger than death? Only a love bigger than fear and bigger than hate. We need this message more than ever.

A Belated Merry Advent Letter

*please note! I wrote this last year and then never published it. It felt kind of scary and raw. I have another letter drafted for this year’s Christmas/advent letter. But then I read it again and while parts are not relevant because I’m in the US and the twins graduated, parts were exactly what I needed to be reminded of personally, again. So maybe it will resonate with someone else who needs to choose joy this season. So, I’ll publish it now.

Merry Christmas from Abroad,

Our four-foot tree is up and shedding quite sadly. The Santa costume is being borrowed by a very Saint Nicholas type of fellow. The stockings, for once, are hung on steps and not over the air conditioner with care. The temperature is a chilly 87 degrees. The kitchen smells like ginger snaps and apple cinnamon candles. The grocery store has a horribly skinny Santa, barefoot, with no shirt under his costume, a rather sexy Santa with bright blue eyes. More stripper than Santa.

Its beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

This is our Christmas letter, the one in which we tell you about our exotic summer vacations (Minnesota is, truly, exotic to desert-dwellers) and about our children’s stellar performances at school (define ‘stellar’), about all the things we are really good at (like forgetting new vocab words in one of the three languages we’ve learned), and then show pictures of things we secretly hope you envy, ala the humble brag (like our incredible, rundown house with rats in the ceiling and roaches in the bathrooms).

What if, instead, I’m totally honest? What if, instead, I told you that this year I’m tired?

A few nights ago as we drove to church, a local boy made the shape of a gun with his fingers and shot at my face through the car window. A few days before that while I was running, a man drove by on a motorcycle and punched my ass. I miss my kids almost the whole year ‘round because all of them are at a boarding school two countries away. My husband and I started up a big new project, thirteen years in the dreaming and our hearts bleeding all over our sleeves, and no one told us that start-ups in Africa take a toll on a marriage.

I would like to go to a movie theater and disappear into the cool darkness and forget about it all. There aren’t any movie theaters in the country. I would like to enjoy a nice evening out with my husband but if we go for a walk we are harassed or are simply just bored of the same, limited, not beautiful route. We’ve tried almost every restaurant in town, there aren’t many cultural events like concerts or plays or dances. Plus, sometimes it takes too much energy to go out the front door.

It can be lonely here. This year, I have a full life, rich with new staff and new friends. People who speak my language, people I enjoy deeply and am coming to love. But I feel lonely creatively, if that’s a thing. Lonely for my people, people who pursue a life of creativity and words and I don’t even know if I have people anymore because I don’t seem to fit anywhere. Lonely spiritually, for a community that speaks my language – both the language of my tongue and of my heart.

What a depressing Christmas letter. At least, that’s what I thought when I reread this. But you know what? This isn’t a Christmas letter after all. Its an advent letter. A letter of longing, of waiting, of seeing the holes in things and the struggle of being alive while being fully convinced that hope is never in vain.

Someone asked me what I want to experience of Jesus this advent season. I want to experience joy. Not happiness, not glibness. Deep, abiding joy that acknowledges there are so many broken things in the world but that chooses to delight in the healing, beautiful things in the world. Joy that says, all is not right in the world. But, “all will be well and all will be well and every kind of thing shall be well.” Julian of Norwich

So, I conjure up joy because that is what I want. Joy is what I need. Joy is what my family needs. It feels like the snow falling in a snow globe. The flakes rest on the bottom and then the world is shaken with strenuous effort and a veneer of cheer falls over the scene below. The scene is the same old one, the flakes change nothing, but for a few minutes while they fall, it is Christmas. It is beautiful. And maybe that’s enough for this year.

Merry Advent,

Rachel