Book Review: A Knead To Read

Sit down with a book when it's too hot to cook

A Knead To Read

Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love, and War

by Annia Ciezadlo
Free Press, 400 pp., $26

What happens when a journalist, a "Polish-Greek-Scotch-Irish mutt from working-class Chicago," marries a Beirut native who's the Middle East bureau chief for Newsday? For Annia Ciezadlo, it meant that she commenced her 2003 honeymoon in Baghdad, living outside the Green Zone and reporting on the war for American publications.

From her position at the intersection of food, politics, and culture, Ciezadlo observes daily life and documents her experiences in two war zones (Baghdad and Beirut) with extraordinary insight and skill.

One of Ciezadlo's journalism professors repeatedly thundered the lesson "If you want to write the story, you have to eat the meal," and she takes that advice literally. "When I'm in a strange new city and feeling rootless, I cook ... to comprehend the place I've landed in, to touch and feel and take in the raw materials of my new surroundings ... because eating has always been my most reliable way of understanding the world."

And through food, she helps us comprehend life where she is. "Torn between pride and worry, Umm Hassane responded like mothers the world over: with food. She stuffed us as if layers of fat could cushion us against car bombs and RPGs." Ciezadlo paints memorable portraits of shopkeepers, journalists, poets, women's rights activists, restaurant owners, and the ways they cope. "While I dithered [during one crisis] my neighbors were already rampaging through the supermarket, stripping it like battle-hardened commandos – which, in a sense, they were. In wartime, shopping becomes a Darwinian exercise in amassing the most calories in the least amount of time."

When Ciezadlo describes meals, I am both hungry and drunk on her words. "Little saucers of hummus with tender spoonfuls of sautéed lamb and pine nuts nestled in their belly buttons." ... "What god leant down and whispered into what mortal ear to put walnuts inside an eggplant?" ... "Watching the others, I took a bite of mint and one of raw onion, and the two sharp blades of flavor tore open the bloody taste of raw lamb."

The best books transport us to worlds outside our experience, making them both real and comprehensible. Unequivocally, this is one of those books.

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