I am so pleased to share with you my review of The Beekeeper of Aleppo to celebrate its paperback publication. If you haven’t read it yet, I urge you to pick up a copy from your bookshop!!
Quite simply, The Beekeeper of Aleppo, is a story that needs to be heard, and needs to be heard now. It is a novel that gives important emphasis and heart to the plight that many humans around the world are facing – forced to flee their homes and lives to seek safety and survival.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo tells the story of husband and wife, Nuri and Afra, and the terrible effects of war on them and their lives. They live in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo, where Nuri is a beekeeper and Afra an artist, and days are full of friends, family, food, natural beauty, love. Then, terribly, war forces them away from their home and drives them on a perilous journey in search of safety.
The book is structured in a really interesting way. The present and the past are connected by single words, such as ‘night’, ‘fire, ‘sunrise’. These individual words form both the last word in the a section in the present, and the first word in a flashback bringing back visions of the journey. This has such an effective jolting effect – the connecting word tugs at your gut, your stomach lurches as you abruptly enter Nuri’s painful memories. Through these series of memories, we piece together the story of Nuri and Afra, and like them, try to come to terms with it. Nuri says of a story he is told during his travels: “he had thrown me tiny fragments of a much larger and longer story” – the way we experience his tale is much the same.
The images that Lefteri creates for us are stark and striking – there is a beautiful simplicity to the language she uses and the symbols she draws on. Bees, working together for the greater good, raise questions about humanity’s ability to do the same. Sight and vision, are contrasted with the darkness that comes with uncertainty and diminishing hope. I was also struck by the power of both sound and silence in the novel. Silence and stillness can be precarious – a foreboding space, but also one of promise. It can be destroyed in an instant – filled with bombs, danger, shouting, or it can provide new opportunity – filled with the delicate sounds of nature, or the happy sounds of children laughing, playing football. On the other hand, silence can also present a surety, in contrast to the dangerous lure of the sirens, in the cautionary tale of Odysseus on his odyssey.
The characters are also so drawn so fully – you feel immensely for them, and it is an honour to hear their story. At times I wondered if I would like to have heard more directly from Afra, with chapters narrated by her as well as Nuri. In many ways, although Nuri and Afra share the same physical journey, their emotional journeys and experiences are very different – there could be a whole other novel in Afra’s narrative. As I thought through this, though, I realised I actually found it very powerful that we only hear directly from Nuri – it was a reminder that The Beekeeper of Aleppo tells one story out of many, millions of stories. Again, there is an immense power in silence, in these yet untold stories.
I urge everyone to read this book. It is hugely important that we hear these untold stories.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo, by Christy Lefteri is available now and in paperback from 20th Feb 2020. Many thanks to Netgalley and the publisher Bonnier Zaffre for an electronic copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author
Brought up in London, Christy Lefteri is the child of Cypriot refugees. She is a lecturer in creative writing at Brunel University. The Beekeeper of Aleppo was born out of her time working as a volunteer at a Unicef supported refugee centre in Athens, and draws on her own personal experiences getting to know those escaping harrowing war torn regions. Everything in the book; dark or beautiful has come directly from people she has met.
Many thanks to Tracy at Compulsive Readers for inviting me to take part in this blog tour. Make sure to check in with these brilliant bloggers!