Buy This Book: Day of Honey

For weeks, since I read Day of Honey cover to cover in a big, delicious rush, I’ve been mulling over a lengthy proper review in my head. Great books about the Middle East are so rare that they deserve splendid treatment.

But I finally realized that’s not going to happen. I already lent my copy to someone else, and gave three more copies to friends. All the details are slipping away. But here’s the essence: Annia Ciezadlo writes about people in the Middle East like they’re real live individual human beings, not political pawns or members of the “Arab street.”

Ciezadlo was a reporter in Iraq not long after the war started, then settled in Beirut just before Israel’s war with Lebanon began in 2006. The book covers her time in both countries, with the added complication of basically being on her honeymoon with her Lebanese husband (also a reporter) when she first heads to Baghdad.

Even with all the chaos around her, Ciezadlo focuses on the still points, the regular daily rituals people go through even when–especially when–everything else is going to shit. This naturally leads to food–the seemingly simple grilled fish Iraqis treasure, the beautiful preserves the Lebanese live on in wartime, and, where the book gets more personal, what Ciezadlo’s mother-in-law teaches her to cook in Beirut.

Day of Honey is also one of the best-written books–on any topic–that I’ve read in years. There’s so much wit here, and sharp observation, and hilarious turns of phrase (why yes, those freelance mourners who crash funerals and chant the Quran–they are “a kind of squeegee men of mourning”). I’d quote more, but, as I said, my book is lent out. Instead, read this review in the New York Times, which is densely packed with some of the finest lines (though certainly not all).

A note about the cover: Don’t judge by it. One of these years, American book publishers will understand that not every book about the Middle East needs to be covered with children and flowers to make it less scary.

And here’s another link to buy the book, just for good measure. And please tell your friends.