All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Beekeeper Of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

on May 21, 2019

The Beekeeper Of Aleppo
Christy Lefteri
2019, 378p
Copy courtesy Allen & Unwin

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

In the midst of war, he found love
In the midst of darkness, he found courage
In the midst of tragedy, he found hope

The Beekeeper of Aleppo

What will you find from his story?

Nuri is a beekeeper; his wife, Afra, an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo – until the unthinkable happens. When all they care for is destroyed by war, they are forced to escape. But what Afra has seen is so terrible she has gone blind, and so they must embark on a perilous journey through Turkey and Greece towards an uncertain future in Britain. On the way, Nuri is sustained by the knowledge that waiting for them is Mustafa, his cousin and business partner, who has started an apiary and is teaching fellow refugees in Yorkshire to keep bees.

As Nuri and Afra travel through a broken world, they must confront not only the pain of their own unspeakable loss, but dangers that would overwhelm the bravest of souls. Above all – and perhaps this is the hardest thing they face – they must journey to find each other again.

Moving, powerful, compassionate and beautifully written, The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a testament to the triumph of the human spirit. Told with deceptive simplicity, it is the kind of book that reminds us of the power of storytelling.

Does anyone remember when that 2016 presidential candidate didn’t know what Aleppo was? Despite the fact that it’d probably been in the news constantly during the previous 4 years, because most of it was shelled and bombed relentlessly, reducing bits of it to rubble during the Syrian Civil War, which sent hundreds of thousands (maybe even millions?) of people fleeing for safety in countries near and far.

This is the story of people who fled, a fictionalised account of a combination of stories that I think the author heard whilst working in a UNICEF refugee support centre in Athens. A lot of Syrian refugees pass through Greece seeking passage to other European countries, most commonly Britain, which is also the hardest to achieve.

Nuri and his wife Afra lived a simple life with their young son. Nuri is a beekeeper, working with his cousin and Afra is a celebrated artist. When the war begins they originally stick it out, despite the worsening situations. After the death of their young son in shelling though, their friends long having gone, Nuri finally makes the decision that they must undertake the arduous journey to escape.

It isn’t easy. It’s long travel in the dead of night, weeks in refugee camps with terrible hygiene and not enough food, crime and dangerous situations as well as dangerous boat trips where they could perish. Nuri and Afra are lucky in that they have a little money, something that Nuri has saved and hoarded which smooths the way for them in ways that those without do not have. But even with that small security, their journey is still truly terrible. Nuri and Afra cope in the best way they know how but everything they have experienced takes a huge mental toll.

I remember my parents used to tell me when I was little, how lucky I was to live in Australia but as a child, you just don’t really get what that means. My country has its faults absolutely, probably one of the worst being how we treat people like Nuri and Afra in this book, fleeing war and destruction and persecution and death and trying to make a better life for themselves. It’s with that understanding that I can read books like this and both embrace how fortunate I am to live here and lament how we don’t do more to help the people that aren’t. So much is done to demonise refugees here, to make the people fear them and be angry at them for jumping mythical queues. They don’t understand the desperation I think, that drives people and books like this highlight how utterly hopeless some people’s home life can be. Nuri and Afra don’t want to leave Aleppo. They love the city and they love living there. They had a good life before the beginning of the war and they stay far longer than many others, Nuri’s cousin and friend having urged him to leave long ago. They don’t leave until a situation arrises where Nuri will be killed if soldiers find him again so they are forced to literally hide for their lives and flee in the middle of the night.

Nuri is a very quiet kind of narrator, he’s very gentle and thoughtful, he really led such a happy and simple life with the bees and really, that’s all he wants. Some bees to take care of and to be safe with his wife and friends that he cares about. It’s not until quite a way into this book that you realise just what the psychological toll on Nuri has been, with everything he has experienced and been through. With Afra it’s more obvious, the stress and grief. Nuri seems to be the one that holds everything together – he organises their escape, their various journeys to get to where they want/need to be. He’s the one that really pushes to leave Aleppo and I also think he bears the guilt of not leaving or sending his family away when Mustafa, his cousin and business partner/friend did. Mustafa and his family are now in England, awaiting Nuri and Afra, with England being the most difficult place to secure asylum. I think the author did an excellent job of showcasing Nuri’s state of mind, how he has had to act and be in order to survive, filing everything away and not dealing with it, just carrying on.

I feel as though from reading this book, I understand the process of what people seeking asylum from Syria in Europe, go through. The physical journey, the difficulties, the emotional and psychological toll. It’s a hard, devastating road to take and yes, there are people that take advantage of the situation. But there are people like that everywhere in life and demonising a whole group of people because of a few shouldn’t be acceptable.

I enjoyed this a lot. It’s a book which gave me a lot to mull over, the sort that I feel like I could discuss with people for hours.


Book #71 of 2019

3 responses to “Review: The Beekeeper Of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

  1. Nice review. I was’t sure about this book, but after reading your thoughts, I am tempted to give it a go! Thank you!

  2. I just read Kelly Rimmers The Things We Cannot Say and I think, like the novel, the world needs to keep telling these stories – and for reasons Kelly gives in the final page of her novel. great review.

  3. What a lovely review! This book is in my must read list, but I need to be in the right mood for it.

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