The Honey Thief, by Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman is an extraordinary book. This book is a series of short stories that all take place in Afghanistan, from the Hazara tribe point of view. Before reading this book, I had never even heard of the Hazara, which are to Afghanistan almost what Native Americans are to the United States. This is a crude comparison, but it is the closest way I can relate to the Hazara in my mind. They are a tribe of people who are secluded from other Afghans and have often been abused and mistreated, yet they endure.
I am a college educated 30 year old woman, and probably one of the least likely types of people that would read a book like this one. Yet here, a world away from where these stories take place, I found myself swept away by this book, which has completely changed the way I think. Afghanistan is more than just bombs and terrorists – more than just what we see on the news. It is a land that combines magic with misery and hosts some of the most resilient people that have ever lived.
Now I feel that I must explain my rating of this book, which I am giving only 3 out of 5 stars. I believe that this book deserves a 5 out of 5 star rating (or higher if such a thing were possible), but certain things would need to happen in order for my rating to change. First of all, I went into this book thinking that the stories would be ancient legends, when in fact many of them were fairly modern, taking place only a couple of decades ago. There did not seem to be a huge amount of organization in the book, as it went from almost magical stories to tales about that Hazara’s violent history without any real transition. I think that grouping the stories into more specific sections would help the flow of the book a bit more. The ending was the most disappointing for me, as the book ends with a chapter full of recipes and no story at all. I think that section should be after the end of the book, maybe in a small little “recipe appendix” section on its own. I would have liked the last story in the book to be as powerful as some of the ones before it, and was left feeling like there was more out there that hadn’t made it onto the pages.
The negatives aside, this book was incredibly powerful. It is rare that a book has such a profound influence on the way a person thinks, and this one certainly did. It also made me appreciate the country I grew up in, as I have been incredibly fortunate in my life compared to many people in Afghanistan. For example, in one of the stories a boy shoots a man at his school, and all of his teachers and even the school principal are hanged just for knowing the boy. His friends are also hanged without a trial or any sort of justice, even though the boy acted on his own accord. This sort of thing would never happen in the United States, and it made my heart ache for the innocent people whose lives were so easily thrown away. Some of the stories feel incredibly recent, even when a time line is not given, and some stories feel like they could have happened centuries ago. One consistent element in all of the stories is the undertones of violence – guns are as common in Afghanistan as cars are in America, and people are never really safe. The Hazara in particular have had an age-old struggle, just trying to survive in a country that does not respect or appreciate them.
Yet Afghanistan is not portrayed as being all bad — it is often described as being enchantingly beautiful with mountains as far as the eye can see and hidden valleys filled with lush fruits falling off the trees. This is an image that has burned itself into my head, an idea that makes me wish I could become a bird and fly over Afghanistan to see all of the beauty for myself. I find myself hoping that someday, somehow, it will become a safe place where people can live peacefully and others can visit without fear of harm. It is tragic that such an amazing place can have such a devastating past – and present.
Above all else, the stories in this book make me realize that the Hazara are a tribe of people with kind, family-oriented roots, and they deserve more than just our respect — they deserve to be known, remembered, and preserved. And the best way to do that is to start by reading this book.
Holly has a Bachelors degree in Environmental Science and owns a small business with her husband selling fleece and hand-spun yarn. When she is not spinning yarn, she does freelance work as a graphic design artist and is highly involved in animal rescue.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Viking Adult. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.