Home » Zen Under Fire | A Review

Zen Under Fire | A Review

Hi all, I had planned to share with you about my trip to Finland this week, but the universe has conspired against me. My smart phone was stolen on Thursday, and unrelatedly, since yesterday my work computer and Macbook have been under quarantine. But as soon as I’m able to get back onto my Mac and finish editing my Helsinki photos, I’ll share them with you here!  In the meantime though, here is my review of Marianne Elliott’s fantastic new book…

Zen Under Fire
Zen Under Fire by Marianne Elliott

I started reading Marianne Elliott‘s blog many moons ago, while she working as a human rights officer for the UN in Afghanistan.  Back in those days, she was writing under a pseudonym on a blog known as Frida’s Notebook.  Since then, she’s blogged about: her transition back into life in New Zealand, about finding her place in the world, about making a difference.  In the meantime, Marianne has also established successful online yoga classes — 30 Days of Yoga — which I’ve taken part in a number of times. I’ve always appreciated her focus on being kind to our bodies and breathing deeply into poses, rather than pushing into them (essentially, the exact opposite of most running philosophies).

Along the way, Marianne also blogged about the process of writing a memoir of her time in Afghanistan.  Needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to reading her book for quite some time, and it didn’t disappoint!  Zen Under Fire focuses very much on Marianne’s struggles to make an impact in righting the social injustices occurring in conflict-ridden Afghanistan.  It was all-too-easy for her to feel like she was bearing the sole burden of preventing and healing the suffering around her.  Feeling as though her work was perhaps futile, she went through a period of profound sadness and isolation.

There are elements of Marianne’s story that anyone who has done aid or development work will recognize.  Indeed, although I have never been in high conflict situations, Zen Under Fire certainly stirred up memories of my work in Uganda and Sierra Leone, including all the conflicting emotions that go along with being a privileged outsider trying to do good in a foreign culture.

Marianne doesn’t pretend to offer easy answers to this struggle, but rather shares the story of how she found her way out of this darkness by developing a daily practice of yoga and meditation.  It didn’t happen over night, but the lessons she learned from her practice gradually brought her to a place where should could focus on the here and now, and be present for the Afghanis she worked to help.

In the end, she came to the realization that the most important thing she could do was to bear witness to the stories of the Afghanis she came in contact with.  Zen Under Fire is most definitely a very compassionate effort to hold true to this commitment and share these stories with the Western world, in the hopes that more can be done to improve the situation in Afghanistan.  So whether you’re more interested in Afghanistan, or yoga, or meditation, taking the time to read Zen Under Fire is most definitely time well spent.

P.S. Berliners: Marianne is going to be do a reading at Shakespeare and Sons in Berlin on the evening of September 19th.  If you’re interested, check out her Facebook link for more information!

How do you feel about reading memoirs?  Do you have a favorite?

For more book reviews on No Apathy Allowed, check these posts out:


  1. Beautiful review. I loved this book and all that it embodied. Your review made me want to read it again. I, too, appreciate Marianne’s focus on being kind to our bodies and breathing deeply into yoga poses. I resisted yoga for many years until I had the privilege of spending a long weekend learning from her that it doesn’t have to be hard. Or rigorous. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Sue Ann. I am still not very good at breathing deeply and letting go, but I guess that is the sign that I should do more of it. :) I know there is a lot of anxiety residing in my body, and I can’t release all of it via running. In fact, this past week has been a doozy for me and Marianne’s book is a good reminder of a what a source of healing yoga can be. P.S. I popped over to your blog just now, and look forward to taking a closer look!

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