A lucid memoir of life and travel in the war-torn Middle East, in which the author explores the journalistic adage that “to write the story, you have to eat the meal.”
Former Christian Science Monitor Baghdad correspondent Ciezadlo traces the six years she spent as an American in the Middle East. The story begins with the author following her Lebanese-born husband to Baghdad in 2003, where the two began new lives as war correspondents. 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. For ordinary Iraqis, creating meals from handed-down recipes that recalled “the memory of other places, other worlds” brought them a comfort and freedom they could not find elsewhere. At the same time, Ciezadlo also discovered how food allowed her to transcend the lingering homesickness that came from “trying to straddle two different places at once.” When the situation for foreign journalists in Baghdad became too dangerous, the author and her husband relocated to the relative calm of Beirut, a city that had been rocked by civil war for nearly 20 years. The couple eventually settled into happy domesticity; for a brief moment, among her husband’s relatives and the bounty of delicious food, the Ciezadlo felt satisfyingly rooted. However, they soon found themselves caught in yet another war as Israel began a military campaign against Hezbollah, which included the bombardment of Beirut. A re-emergence of old hostilities between Shiite and Sunni Muslims soon followed, causing more unrest. Saddened by “the aftertaste of hate,” Ciezadlo realized that while “the war would never end,” internecine conflicts did not diminish the fact that “[h]ome was wherever you broke bread with people you loved.”
Though the author is occasionally overzealous in her attempts to wed the political and historical with the personal and domestic, this ambitious and multilayered book is as much a feast for the mind as for the heart.