Saturday, July 16, 2011

Reviewed: The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar

Reviewed by Alexandra Seidel

Reader, first of all, a warning. 'The Honey Month' will leave you wishing for strange honeys that you might spend your days searching and never can find; instead you will be left with this collection of 28 poems and stories to be read again and again, hoping that they will turn to honey on your tongue. In other words, El-Mohtar's little book is addictive.

As for what it is about, I might simply say that 'The Honey Month' holds in its pages everything from the bees' sharp poison sting to all the rainbow sweetness of their honeys, but it is so much more than that. Herein collected are 28 poems and stories written to the tastes of 28 different honeys from all over the world. The author describes the color, smell and taste of every honey before the respective piece and sometimes you can glimpse exactly what sparked the composition of this poem or that tale, sometimes things are not so obvious.

The stories are wild and sweet, strange. There is a star girl who fell and lost almost everything in that fall; there are ravens who speak with human voices and lure small children from their beds; there is a forest visited twice, once to lose and once to find; there is a mermaid who misses the sea beyond homesickness, beyond hurt; there is a talking river and above all, there is honey lining these pages thicker than the ink, because El-Mohtar's unique skill allows you to get a feel for her honeys' tastes by the way her stories unfold, by how they dazzle you or by how they hurt. More than once I had to put the book down before reading on because a story had such an impact on me. More than once did I read a story again, and again.

The poems in this collection are no less influenced by their inspirational honey. Lemon Creamed Honey produced a poem that at first didn't strike me as much, but even so, I have its lines stuck in my head while writing this: "The lemon road is long, the lemon road is wide,/[…]/the lemon road will have you for its bride." Raspberry Honey, too, gave us a poem that stays with you long after you have read the last stanza, because the longing in this poem is so very profound that we all can relate in some way. The Blue-and Blackberry Honeys have produced poems of exquisite bitterness, hard and harsh, but not without catharsis. The French Rhododendron Honey shows the perfect snapshot effect that haiku should have, the here and now captured perfectly in just 17 syllables.

I could point out more stories that moved me, more poems that made me hold my breath, but I would end up listing all 28, and that, Reader, would rob you of some of the joy of discovering for yourself, and I strongly suggest that you do. This beautiful collection is the kind of thing I would give a dear friend, someone I care about, it is just that kind of book.

Throughout, Oliver Hunter's art illustrates poems and stories, but all his pieces transcend mere illustrations and become something of their own that will make you turn back a page or two just to look at them one more time.

The only thing that to this day I cannot get over is that 'The Honey Month' does not come with little vials of these 28 honeys; as I said, getting your hands on them is much like a treasure hunt, and this beautiful book makes quite a map.

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