Thursday, September 05, 2019
The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
I've put two images of The Beekeeper of Aleppo up because I noticed the one on the right is more common at Goodreads. My copy was like the one at left, an ARC, and it appears to be available with this cover in hardback but it's also possible that the image wasn't updated by the publisher. So, to make it easy to identify, if you decide to go looking for it in an actual store, I've opted to post both images.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo is about a man and his family who lived in Aleppo, Syria, when it was a peaceful place. After meeting his cousin Mustafa and finding out about his work as a beekeeper, Nuri chose to join his cousin Mustafa's beekeeping business. But, then drought hit the country, followed by war. Now, his house has been bombed, his child killed, and his wife blinded. The book goes back and forth in time, from the idyllic past in which Nuri's country is beautiful and peaceful and he has a job he loves to the beginnings of drought, the bombings, the deaths of loved ones, his cousin's escape to England, and then finally a time when Nuri's life is threatened and he's left with no choice but to try to get to England, as well. All of that falls into the past timeline. In the present timeline, Nuri is living in England, hoping to be approved for asylum, and doing strange things like sleeping in the garden.
There's so much to this book. You get a glimpse of the horrifying journey that one must take to escape across Europe, where not every country is willing to let immigrants pass through and human smugglers take too many people across the water on dangerously unstable boats. You see the deterioration of a country from peaceful and lovely to being reduced to violence and rubble (in this case, due to climate change). The loss of one's livelihood (Nuri's beekeeping; his wife Afra's art) is shown as yet another facet of loss and grief. The death of a child and the post-traumatic stress and how they change the way Nuri and Afra behave is described. The dangers to women who are refugees are shown.
Being a refugee . . . this is the third book I've read about people having no choice but to escape violence-ridden countries (not the same country) but the hazards are always the same. You leave out of desperation and take very little. Every little thing you have, though, some people are willing to steal: your money, your backpack with just a few shreds of clothing and maybe a bar of soap, your phone, your shoes, your life. Women are often raped or otherwise abused. You could have been wealthy in your home country but you're nothing and nobody, just a chance to make money to a smuggler, a nuisance to the countries you travel through, a suspicious alien to those from whom you seek asylum. We, the readers, normally see these stories from the opposite side, as the place people try to go. In a country where asylum is a possibility, it's incumbent upon the residents to understand why anyone would want to leave their home and travel thousands of miles to ask for asylum. The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a novel that helps give you that perspective.
Highly recommended - While I didn't find that The Beekeeper of Aleppo tugged at my heartstrings in the way that some do (I didn't cry; I just took the family into my heart and maybe grieved with them and feared for them), I think I got out of The Beekeeper of Aleppo what the author wanted — a better understanding of what it's like to live somewhere that was once a happy, beautiful place to live with a rich history and then have no choice but to run for your life; a feel for the horror, the grief, and the terror of being a refugee. I'm glad the author chose to portray the story through the eyes of Nuri rather than Afra because Afra's grief made her nearly catatonic, at times, while Nuri refused to give up hope. He had problems and fears and guilt, but he was still mostly a functioning human.
I received an ARC of The Beekeeper of Aleppo from Ballantine Books (an imprint of Penguin Random House) for review. Many thanks! I think this title would be a good one for group discussion and I plan to loan my copy to my F2F group's leader in the hopes that she'll agree.
©2019 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for written permission to reproduce text or photos.