Najaf Mazari began his working life as a shepherd boy in the foothills of towering mountains in Northern Afghaistan. Later, he applied himself to the task of becoming a master rugmaker. He fled upheaval in Afghanistan in 2000 and made his way to Australia, where he now lives with wife, Hakema, and his daughter, Maria. He is a successful businessman with a shop in Melbourne’s antique precinct selling Afghan traditional rugs. He is deeply involved in creating a better climate for asylum seekers in Australia and in charity activities that provide medical and educational assistance to some of the poorest villages in Afghanistan. Each year, he sponsors an Afghan Evening of traditional song, dance and cuisine that highlights the achievements of Afghans in Australia. His success in fundraising has allowed him to purchase a modern, well-equipped ambulance to serve the village in which he was born in Northern Afghanistan and to pay the annual salary of a driver and a paramedic. In the past, people in his village would only make the horse-and-cart journey to the nearest hospital in Mazar-e-Sharif in the most dire need, and often didn’t survive. The Honey Thief is Najaf’s second collaboration with Robert Hillman. The first, The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif, told the story of his journey from war-torn Afghanistan to Australia. It is widely studied in Australian secondary schools.
At age 16, Robert Hillman booked a fare by ship to Ceylon (as it was then known) but ended up in the Middle East, eventually living and working in Iran. He began writing when he returned to Australia, publishing novels with Angus and Robertson, Simon and Schuster, and Scribe. His memoir, The Boy in the Green Suit, published by Scribe, won the Australian National Biography Award in 2005. He wrote My Life as a Traitor with Zarah Ghahramani in 2006, short-listed for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award. He met Najaf Mazari in 2006 and formed a close friendship, collaborating with him on The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif (2007), and The Honey Thief, in 2012. His articles have appeared in all major Australian newspapers, and in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Observer.
Robert Hillman writes of his first meeting with Najaf: Najaf’s Hazara people have a deeply ingrained reluctance to complain. Their ordeal in Afghanistan over the centuries has bred a stoicism in them that extends to keeping any suffering to themselves, whenever possible. When I first met with Najaf to discuss writing his story, this stoicism made it awkward for him to tell me of his ordeal in Mazar-e-Sharif, where he fell into the hands of the Taliban and was horribly tortured. He thought it would sound like he was making a big deal out of something he survived, after all. He studied my face very intently as I spoke of the way I though his story, eventually told in The Rugmaker of Mazar-e-Sharif, might be structured. He interrupted me every now and again to ask me things that seemed a little beside-the-point at the time: Did I have children? (Yes.) How many? (Three.) Boys or girls? (All boys.) How long did I live in the Middle East? (One year.) What was I doing there? (I was heading for the Seychelles, but lost my way.) Lost your way? How could that happen? (Stupidity.) After half an hour of conversation, Najaf suddenly reached across the table at which we were sitting and covered my hand with both of his. “Robert, you are the one, okay? You, I trust. Good, now have a cup of tea.”