Day of Honey

A Memoir of Food, Love, and War

By Annia Ciezadlo
(Free Press, Paperback, 9781416583943, 416pp.)

Publication Date: February 14, 2012

Other Editions of This Title: Hardcover

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Selected by Indie Booksellers for the March 2011 Indie Next List
“If you're expecting Day of Honey to read like a typical memoir, think again. A mix of memoir, history, foodie narrative, and war story, this book is really quite amazing. Ciezadlo has the perfect voice for her chosen mix of topics: she's obviously intelligent, insightful yet non-judgmental, and when needed, wickedly humorous. Who knew you could learn so much about war and culture in the Middle East while contemplating the recipe for Kibbeh Nayeh? Bravo!”
-- Roni K Devlin, Literary Life Bookstore & More, Inc., Grand Rapids, MI


Description

American Book Award Winner
Winner of Books for a Better Life Award (First Book)
James Beard Foundation Award Nominee
BNN Discover Awards, second place nonfiction

IN THE FALL OF 2003, AS IRAQ DESCENDED INTO CIVIL WAR, Annia Ciezadlo spent her honeymoon in Baghdad. For the next six years, she lived in Baghdad and Beirut, where she dodged bullets during sectarian street battles, chronicled the Arab world’s first peaceful revolution, and watched Hezbollah commandos invade her Beirut neighborhood. Throughout all of it, she broke bread with Sunnis and Shiites, warlords and refugees, matriarchs and mullahs. Day of Honey is her story of the hunger for food and friendship during wartime—a communion that feeds the soul as much as the body.

In lush, fiercely intelligent prose, Ciezadlo uses food and the rituals of eating to uncover a vibrant Middle East most Americans never see. We get to know people like Roaa, a young Kurdish woman whose world shrinks under occupation to her own kitchen walls; Abu Rifaat, a Baghdad book lover who spends his days eavesdropping in the ancient city’s legendary cafés; and the unforgettable Umm Hassane, Ciezadlo’s sardonic Lebanese mother-in-law, who teaches her to cook rare family recipes (included in a mouthwatering appendix of Middle Eastern comfort food). From dinner in downtown Beirut to underground book clubs in Baghdad, Day of Honey is a profound exploration of everyday survival—a moving testament to the power of love and generosity to transcend the misery of war.




About the Author

Annia Ciezadlo has written about culture, politics, and the Middle East for The New Republic, The Nation, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, and Lebanon’s Daily Star. Annia lives with her husband in New York.




Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com

CONVERSATION STARTERS

    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?

    1. 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?
    1. 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? 
    1. "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? 
    1. 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?
    1. 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)"?
    1. 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? 
    1. 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?
    1. 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?
    1. 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?
    1. 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?
    1. 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? 
  1. 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? 
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?



Praise For Day of Honey

”Ciezadlo's lovely, natural language succeeds where news reports often fail: She leads us to care.”
The Oregonian

“Her book is full of more insight and joy than anything else I have read on Iraq. . . . Ciezadlo is a wonderful traveling companion. Her observations are delightful — witty, intelligent and nonjudgmental.”
The Washington Post Book World

“Her writing about food is both evocative and loving; this is a woman who clearly enjoys a meal... A glass of Iraqi tea, under Ciezadlo's gaze, is a thing of beauty.”
The Associated Press

“In her extraordinary debut, Annia Ciezadlo turns food into a language, a set of signs and connections, that helps tie together a complex moving memoir of the Middle East."
The Globe and Mail

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