'Honey Thief' has humane stories

THE HONEY THIEF. By Najaf Mazari and Robert Hillman. Viking. 284 pages. $26.95.

Najaf Mazari, author of “The Honey Thief,” wants his reader to understand that he is ethnically Hazara. He emphatically identifies himself with the mountainous region of Hazarajat in central Afghanistan More importantly, the stories of his people, long victimized in Afghanistan, forged him into the man he is today.

In fact, he says the stories of the Hazara “make up the heart, mind, bones, flesh and organs of his body.”

“The Honey Thief” is a collection of Hazara tales conveying timeless values of family devotion, love and forgiveness. But they differ from other simple folk tales in that they allow the reader to glimpse the Hazara from the inside.

Western readers will marvel at the Hazara’s ability to swallow tears of grief, shrug off cruel discrimination and accept disability without any hope of rehabilitative therapy.

While it may sound bleak at first, their suffering instills resilience and the impetus to move forward in life.

In one story, a mute boy hears something magical one night and discovers that a musician has moved into the village. The musician is a decrepit, angry grouch and associates with no one. But the boy tries to convince the musician to become his teacher, despite his having no money to pay for his lessons. After several futile attempts, the boy finally writes a note that pleads, “Teach me for the sake of my soul.” The teacher is swayed.

A valuable addition to a world literature collection, “The Honey Thief,” as the author states, tells stories that “pierce the flesh and make a life for themselves in the listener’s (or reader’s) heart.”

Reviewer Hayden D. Shook teaches English as a Second Language at the Community Center of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church and the College of Charleston.