Land of War and Honey
This review is from a syndication service of The Washington Post.
For the scores of journalists and aid workers who poured into Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the terrible food in Baghdad’s hotels was a shock — greasy minced meat, mayonnaise-soaked vegetables and an obsession with Pepsi. But the story of the occupation and insurgency was so intense that most visitors spent little time worrying about what they put in their mouths. Thankfully, freelancer Annia Ciezadlo, who arrived in the fall of 2003 for a yearlong reporting stint, became obsessed with Iraq’s food and trekked across its gastronomic desert. In “Day of Honey,” she delves into how the 25-year dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and a decade of U.N. sanctions drove Iraq’s best recipes underground.
Her epicurial tour cracks open a different Iraq. She looks into its dusty cookbooks, explores its coffeehouses and savors the foods of its many regions and religious sects. Her book is full of more insight and joy than anything else I have read on Iraq. Some tidbits are fascinating. For example, she tells us that the world’s oldest known recipe was written on three clay tablets in southern Mesopotamia in 1600 B.C.
Skirting the politics, hotel food and headline-grabbing violence, Ciezadlo spills the secrets of this region so rich in history as if they were spices from a burlap sack. Her writing is at times so moving that you want to cry for countries destroyed, but she writes with such wisdom that you don’t fret over the future of these 4,000-year-old civilizations. It’s a shame that the hundreds of journalists, aid workers and pundits who dominate the discussion of Iraq and Lebanon rarely stop to delight in the countries’ beauty.
Christina Asquith, who covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is author of “Sisters in War: A Story of Love, Family and Survival in the New Iraq.”
(c) 2011, Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers GroupWAIT, BEFORE YOU GO…
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