The Beekeeper of Aleppo, by Christy Lefteri
Published by Manilla Press, 20th February 2020 (first published 2nd May 2019)
Genres: Historical fiction
Trigger warnings: death of children, war atrocities, sexual assault
Nuri is a beekeeper, living and working in the Syrian city of Aleppo. He lives a happy life surrounded by family, with his wife Afra and their young son, and friends. All is well until it isn’t. As war rages and their beautiful city is destroyed around them, Nuri and Afra must make the difficult decision to leave everything behind. Once a talented artist, Afra has been blinded by the terrible things she has witnessed, not least the death of their son.
Nuri and Afra leave Aleppo and journey to the UK to be reunited with Nuri’s cousin and fellow beekeeper. But their journey is long and fraught with many dangers and difficulties. As they travel through Turkey and Greece towards the UK, they must also journey towards finding each other, and themselves, again.
This book was really moving, even more so when you know that it is inspired by real refugee stories, collected by the author during her time as a volunteer in Greece. It is impossible to truly imagine the hardships and struggles that refugees go through, just in search of a better future. Lefteri captures these stories beautifully and with a heart-breaking simplicity.
I particularly enjoyed the back and forth between their lives in Aleppo, especially before the war, their treacherous journey, and then their present in England. These details made the story even richer and provided depth to the characters.
Throughout the story, Lefteri explores what it means to see. Afra is blind, but is she actually blind or has she simply stopped allowing herself to see, in order to protect herself from the horrors surrounding her? In spite of being blind, she is still able to draw beautifully, by touch. Nuri, on the other hand, is portrayed as the capable one, leading the couple through the difficult voyage. But is he seeing what is really there or what his mind is tricking him into seeing? It is very interesting to think about the ways in which our bodies subconsciously react in order to protect us from harm and pain.
This is a really beautiful book, written with a lot of love and the desire to truly capture the refugee experience.
My rating: 4/5