The Beekeeper of Aleppo
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, 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. It is the kind of book that reminds us of the power of storytelling.
Author: Christy Lefteri | Publisher: Ballantine Books
Rating: 5 / 5
My great thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me a copy of this book early in exchange for an honest review.
“Now, standing there with her face so close to mine, I could see the desire, the determination to hold on to an illusion, a vision of life, of Aleppo.”
This novel is a masterpiece of modern history. I'm still processing it, healing the small wound in my chest that it left, hoping to internalize this sliver of connection to humanity. But I will try to find the words to review it for you.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo tells the story of Nuri, a man who once led a simple, beautiful life. He was in business with his cousin and close friend — the bees they lovingly raised produced honey that fueled a small business. His wife, Afra, was an artist. His son was the apple of his eye. Today, they’re in London, attempting to seek asylum from the Syrian civil war. He is a shell of the man he once was, and Afra is blind.
Through intense and heartbreaking flashbacks, we get glimpses into the events that drove them from their home, the things that cannot be unseen, the journey and desperation that got them where they are today. Because the story isn’t told linearly, much of it comes to the audience through revelation, small and large but always eye-opening.
“[Infants] communicated without words from the most primitive part of the soul. I remembered her laughing about this, saying that she felt like an animal [when she breastfed], and how she realized that we are less human in our times of greatest love and greatest fear.”
The pacing and structure of this novel was excellent. We know they made it to London, because that’s where the present-day chapters take place. But how did they get there? How did Nuri become this version of himself? What happened to Afra’s eyes? Who is this character named Mohammad? What happened to them along the way? Where are the parts of themselves that they seem to have left behind? What will happen to them next?
In the author’s note, Christy Lefteri tells us that she volunteered in refugee camps in Athens, Greece, and that’s where the inspiration for this story came from. It’s clear that she witnessed a lot, and they way she molds those observations into a narrative are empathetic and heart-wrenching.
This is a stunning portrait of trauma, a question of what it means to see and experience traumatic things, and a simultaneously devastating and hopeful. It’s easier (and human), when dealing with terrible truths like war, to keep them at a distance. Our brains find it hard to wrap themselves around such terrible truths. This novel breaks down that barrier in a way that helps it resonate deep inside.