September/October Book Club Pick Review: The Beekeeper of Aleppo
We hope you enjoyed our September/October 2019 book club pick as much as we did! This novel was beautiful, heartwarming, but at times, difficult to read. We read “The Beekeeper of Aleppo” as the Turkish military was attacking Kurdish areas in Syria, forcing more people out of their homes. While the war is winding down, the struggles people are facing are far from over and we encourage you to donate to an organization that helps refugees, like the International Rescue Committee or the UNHCR.
“People are not like bees. We do not work together, we have no real sense of a greater good--I’ve come to realize this now.” - Mustafa, p. 85
Nuri, a beekeeper, and Afra, an artist, live a peaceful life in Aleppo with their son Sami. Then protests and war come to Aleppo. Nuri's cousin Mustafa, who encouraged Nuri to start beekeeping, flees to England to be with his daughter and wife, but Nuri and Afra do not want to leave their beloved Aleppo. When tragedy strikes the family and Afra become blind, they decide to make the difficult journey from Syria to England. Along the way we encounter, Mohammed, a young boy who keeps Nuri hopeful and determined to get to England.
While this is a fictional novel, it is incredibly powerful, and I imagine fairly accurate. Christy Lefteri, who is the child of refugees and has worked with refugees through volunteering with UNICEF, effortlessly blended Nuri and Afra's journey as refugees with their life in Aleppo through flashbacks and unique transitions between chapters. At times it is haunting and difficult to read, but it provides us with an understanding of the difficulty refugees face when fleeing their country. However, it is also hopeful at times, as we see that sometimes Mustafa is wrong. People can be like bees. They can help each other and see a greater good in the world.
I received a copy of this book from Netgalley via the publisher and from a Goodreads Giveaway.
“‘I think the bees are like us,’ she said ‘They are vulnerable like us. But then there are people like Mustafa. There are people like him in the world and those people bring life rather than death.’” -Afra, pg. 191
Although The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a fiction novel, I struggled through this one. My heart couldn’t bear the heaviness of Nuri and Afra’s story amidst the tragic events in Northern Syria and the devastating position America left the Kurds in this week. I felt myself wanting to power through and just finish because I couldn’t handle the painful experiences as they were a reflection of a reality too close to home.
Christy Lefteri gives us a heart-gripping account of Nuri and Afra’s journey from their homeland in Aleppo to an uncertain and unfamiliar country to them, England. We are invited inside the thoughts of Nuri, a former beekeeper, as he unconsciously escapes the present and recounts flashbacks and memories of the past. Lefteri chronicles a deeply personal narrative that sheds light on the often taboo topics of trauma, mental health, loss, and the effects of war on humanity. Nuri lives through moments where he is unable to recognize himself pushing away the very one he loves the most, yet always holding on to a glimpse of hope of being reunited with his cousin Mustafa again.
The perfect closing to this story can be found in the “Author’s Note” with Christy Lefteri describing her emotions when volunteering in a UNICEF refugee center in Greece. A little girl comes up to her and says, “I love you” and it was at this moment that she realized “love was people’s way out of the darkness”. Love breaks through the sorrow. It breaks through the pain. Love even breaks through the bitterness, the trauma, and defeat. Love rekindles hope--to start over and live again. This is exactly what we see in The Beekeeper of Aleppo.