In 2003 journalist Annia Ciezadlo accompanied her Lebanese husband, Mohamad, to Baghdad where he was sent to report for an American newspaper. They went first to Beirut where they met Mohamad’s family, then back to New York where they were civilly married, and eventually on to Iraq: the honeymoon. Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love and War is Ciezadlo’s spectacular account of her journey into a country at war, of the people she met along the way, and of the food that brought them all together.
Early in the pages of the book Ciezadlo writes, “The truth is I was never all that interested in the Middle East”. It’s a simple observation that draws you into her story with the understanding that you – and anyone else – is welcome in reading, that you have every right to venture into the pages. It also illustrates the honesty with which she approaches the topic, and all the smaller topics within the book. It’s her non-political approach that makes Day of Honey a reading experience everyone will likely be affected by; and she cultivates her ability to guide us through the topic by speaking languages that we all understand: family, friendship, and food.
Through her writing Ciezadlo obliterates the boundaries set by politics and religion, drawing us into an acquaintance with the civilian characters of a Middle East most people may have never seen from its place underneath the veil of an entire world’s prejudices and policies. She eliminates the cultural divide, yet illustrates cultural differences, endearing them to the reader as she gently and purposefully opens our eyes to what life during the Iraq War was like. Through Ciezadlo’s narrative we all experience the blissful disconnect of the nomadic perspective that allows us an unobstructed view of the world and its vast societies. Who would’ve thought that disconnect would cause connection. As I read Day of Honey I felt like I had been given the opportunity to go back in time and meet people my life – or rather, Annia’s life, and by effect my own – would’ve been much less colorful without. The bookworm-slash-artist-slash-poet Abu Rifaat, the affectionate young Roaa with big dreams of a simple life for herself and women everywhere, the determined and empowering Dr. Salama; then from Baghdad to Beruit where we’re in the company of the sardonic Umm Hussane, Annia’s spirited and sarcastic mother-in-law. The list builds longer still as Ciezadlo documents the many natural eccentricities of the people she meets, befriends and always – always – shares a meal with. She also includes, in the back of the book, some of her favorite Middle Eastern recipes which, after reading her raptures about them throughout her narration, I’m curious to try.
Reading Day of Honey brings about an inner sense of transformation. I think it’s an effect of the enlightenment that comes with everything Ciezadlo feeds into the pages of the book; whether it’s the vast histories of Iraq and Lebanon, the insights into their historical legends, or the magnitude and depth of the ideas, dreams and aspirations of Baghdad and Beruit’s societies. Or it’s the simple idea of a street in Baghdad that’s almost entirely devoted to booksellers and cafés; or, finally, absolutely, tremendously…the food. It all culminates into a host of feelings that settle under the umbrella of one: understanding.
I’ll leave off with a simple request: if you read only one book this year, make it Day of Honey. Then drop me a line and tell me everything you gained from it.
Buy Day of Honey:
Hardcover and e-book editions of the memoir are available now, and the trade paperback will be released next week, on February 14th. You can pre-order below to have the book sent as soon as it’s available.
Special thanks to the publisher, Free Press, for supplying a free copy of Day of Honey for the purpose of review. Although I received the book free of charge the opinions represented in this review are entirely and authentically my own. Read my full disclosure policy here.