DAY OF HONEY

A Memoir of Food, Love, and War

Annia Ciezadlo

In the fall of 2003, Annia Ciezadlo spent her honeymoon in Baghdad. Over the next six years, while living in Baghdad and Beirut, she broke bread with Shiites and Sunnis, warlords and refugees, matriarchs and mullahs. Day of Honey is her memoir of the hunger for food and friendship—a communion that feeds the soul as much as the body in times of war. Reporting from occupied Baghdad, Ciezadlo longs for normal married life. She finds it in Beirut, her husband’s hometown, a city slowly recovering from years of civil war. But just as the young couple settles into a new home,

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In the fall of 2003, Annia Ciezadlo spent her honeymoon in Baghdad. Over the next six years, while living in Baghdad and Beirut, she broke bread with Shiites and Sunnis, warlords and refugees, matriarchs and mullahs. Day of Honey is her memoir of the hunger for food and friendship—a communion that feeds the soul as much as the body in times of war. Reporting from occupied Baghdad, Ciezadlo longs for normal married life. She finds it in Beirut, her husband’s hometown, a city slowly recovering from years of civil war. But just as the young couple settles into a new home, the bloodshed they escaped in Iraq spreads to Lebanon and reawakens the terrible specter of sectarian violence. In lucid, fiercely intelligent prose, Ciezadlo uses food and the rituals of eating to illuminate a vibrant Middle East that most Americans never see. We get to know people like Roaa, a determined young Kurdish woman who dreams of exploring the world, only to see her life under occupation become confined to the kitchen; Abu Rifaat, a Baghdad book lover who spends his days eavesdropping in the ancient city’s legendary cafÉs; Salama al-Khafaji, a soft-spoken dentist who eludes assassins to become Iraq’s most popular female politician; and Umm Hassane, Ciezadlo’s sardonic Lebanese mother-in-law, who teaches her to cook rare family recipes—which are included in a mouthwatering appendix of Middle Eastern comfort food. As bombs destroy her new family’s ancestral home and militias invade her Beirut neighborhood, Ciezadlo illuminates the human cost of war with an extraordinary ability to anchor the rhythms of daily life in a larger political and historical context. From forbidden Baghdad book clubs to the oldest recipes in the world, Ciezadlo takes us inside the Middle East at a historic moment when hope and fear collide. Day of Honey is a brave and compassionate portrait of civilian life during wartime—a moving testament to the power of love and generosity to transcend the misery of war.

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  • Free Press
  • Hardcover
  • February 2011
  • 400 Pages
  • 9781416583936

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About Annia Ciezadlo

Born in Chicago, Annia Ciezadlo grew up in Bloomington, Indiana. She received her Master’s in journalism from New York University in 2000. In late 2003, she left New York for Baghdad, where she worked as a stringer for The Christian Science Monitor and other publications for the next year. During this time, she wrote groundbreaking stories, about parliamentary quotas for women, Baghdad’s graffiti wars, militant Islamist poetry slams, the flight of the country’s Christian minority, and Iraq’s first reality tv show. Her first-person piece on what it’s like to go through checkpoints in Baghdad earned a flood of responses, and is now used by the US military to help prevent civilian casualities. Since then, she has reported on revolutions in Lebanon, crackdowns in Syria, repression in Iraqi Kurdistan, and the 2006 “summer war” between Israel and Hezbollah. Although she has covered several wars, Annia does not describe herself as a war correspondent. She specializes in articles about Arab culture and civil society, stories that explore the intersections between larger political realities and everyday activities like driving, cooking, and going to school. She has written about culture, politics, and the Middle East for The New Republic, The Nation, The Washington Post, the National Journal, The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Observer, and Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper. Annia lives somewhere between New York and Beirut, with her husband, the journalist Mohamad Bazzi

Praise

“Among the least political, and most intimate and valuable [books], to have come out of the Iraq war… A carefully researched tour through the history of Middle Eastern food…. filled with adrenalized scenes from war zones, scenes of narrow escapes and clandestine phone calls and frightening cultural misunderstandings. Ciezadlo is completely hilarious on the topic of trying to please her demanding new Lebanese in-laws. These things wouldn’t matter much, though, if her sentences didn’t make such a sensual, smart, wired-up sound on the page. Holding Day of Honey I was reminded of the way that, with a book of poems, you can very often flip through it for five minutes and know if you’re going to like it; you get something akin to a contact high… readers will feel lucky to find her.” Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“Among the least political, and most intimate and valuable [books], to have come out of the Iraq war… A carefully researched tour through the history of Middle Eastern food…. filled with adrenalized scenes from war zones, scenes of narrow escapes and clandestine phone calls and frightening cultural misunderstandings. Ciezadlo is completely hilarious on the topic of trying to please her demanding new Lebanese in-laws. These things wouldn’t matter much, though, if her sentences didn’t make such a sensual, smart, wired-up sound on the page. Holding Day of Honey I was reminded of the way that, with a book of poems, you can very often flip through it for five minutes and know if you’re going to like it; you get something akin to a contact high… readers will feel lucky to find her.” — Dwight Garner, The New York Times “A passionate argument for the idea that whether it’s your mother-in-law or a military enemy, meeting over a meal eases differences, and that knowing the world means dining in it.”Bookforum

“Capped off with a collection of mouthwatering recipes, many from Ciezadlo’s larger-than-life mother-in-law, Day of Honey turns thoughts on food into provocative food for thought.”BookPage

“A lucid memoir of life in the war-torn Middle East…. Through immersion in food and cooking, Ciezadlo grounded herself amid widespread instability while gaining special insight into a people forced to endure years of bloody conflict….This ambitious and multilayered book is as much a feast for the mind as for the heart.”Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions

1. Day of Honey opens with an introduction, titled “The Siege,” that takes place soon after 9/11 in New York City. Why do you think Annia begins her memoir here, with a taxi ride down Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue? How does this introduction set the scene for the rest of the book?

2. One important theme of Day of Honey is the question of home. Do you agree with Annia that “home could be something you made instead of the place where you lived” (p. 24)? Is home a fixed location, or is it a movable feast?

3. Discuss the relationship between Annia’s nomadic teenage years and her personal connection to food. Do you think Annia’s travels through America influenced her experience in the Middle East?

4. “How do you like Beirut?” (p. 34). It’s the question everyone asks Annia during her first visit to her future home. What are Annia’s first impressions of Beirut? Which of the city’s pleasures does she discover right away, and which does she find later, as a resident?

5. Annia identifies what she refers to as a “shadow conflict” in times of war that she defines as “the slow but relentless destruction of everyday civilian life” (p. 8). Of all the everyday freedoms that are lost in Baghdad and Beirut, which loss seems the most tragic? Which of Annia’s new friends and acquaintances fall victim to this “shadow war,” and which manage to adapt during times of conflict?

6. Compare Annia’s childhood to Mohamad’s. How were their early environments different, and how were they similar? What challenges did each of them face growing up? What factors made each of them a “reluctant nomad (p. 25)”?

7. On page 265, Annia writes: “You are reading my account of one war—my imperfect memories of what I saw and felt and did. Others had their own perceptions and their own realities.” What does she mean by this? Is she writing as a journalist, or a human being, or both?

8. When Annia arrives in Baghdad, she finds that most outsiders describe Iraqi food as “the real weapon of mass destruction” (p. 66). Why does Annia take this as a personal challenge, and how does she prove them wrong? Why have outsiders misjudged Iraqi cuisine?

9. Discuss the theme of hospitality in Day of Honey. How does Annia react to this Middle Eastern tradition? Annia learns early on to “never, ever turn down a meal” (p. 113). What kinds of homes, meals, and dangers does Annia encounter as a result?

10. Consider the story of Roaa, Annia’s translator who grew up in war-torn Iraq. How does Roaa feel about her country’s history and its prospects for the future? Do you think Roaa and her husband, now living in Colorado, will ever be able to “make” themselves settle down, as Roaa puts it (p. 318)? Why or why not?

11. According to Annia, “My idea of paradise is more like Mutanabbi Street, in Baghdad’s old city: an entire city street with no cars, just books and cafés” (p. 105). How does Mutanabbi Street demonstrate Iraqis’ love for the written word? What solace does Annia find on Mutanabbi Street, and why must she eventually stop going there? Have you ever encountered a city, street, or place that felt like your idea of paradise?

12. Annia was living in Baghdad when Saddam Hussein was finally captured. How do Annia’s Iraqi friends respond to this historical event? Annia writes, “The flavor of freedom was more complex, more bitter than we imagined” (p. 120). Did Annia’s account of the United State’s occupation of Iraq change your perspective or understanding of current events?

13. Discuss the unique challenges that women—the “face of Iraq”—must contend with (p. 140). Why is Dr. Salama, a popular female politician, a complicated spokeswoman for women’s rights in Iraq? What does Annia learn about Iraqi women and politics from her conversations with Dr. Salama? How did you react to these events in the book?

14. Consider the strong personality of Umm Hassane, Annia’s mother-in-law. What are Annia’s first impressions of Umm Hassane, and how does Annia’s opinion of her mother-in-law evolve over the course of the book? What can we learn about Umm Hassane’s character from her cooking style? How does Annia find “the real story” of the war by cooking with Umm Hassane (p. 275)? Does Umm Hassane remind you of anyone you know?

15. Discuss the early years of Annia and Mohamad’s marriage. What are the main sources of tension in their relationship? Were you able to relate to their everyday squabbles? Why or why not? Why do you think she includes these incidents in her accounts of historic events?

16. Why does Annia return to Beirut in the fall of 2007, after Mohamad finds a job in New York? What do you think Mohamad means when he says, “the war would never end…you ended it yourself” (p. 313)? How does Annia manage to end her dangerous attachment to Beirut?