The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christine Lefteri
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Published: 27th August 2019
Genre: Literary Fiction
Setting: Syria, Greece, UK
Rating: 2 Stars
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. (Source: Goodreads)
I have gone through a number of reviews and with over 380 Goodreads reviews and 1600+ ratings, this books stands at a strong 4.3/5 star rating which to be honest baffles me.. Why? Because it spells out for me in clear BOLD FONT the ignorance in which the (western) world continues to perceive the refugee experience. There has been a lot of negative rhetoric and lack of understanding of the refugee crisis for a long time. Africa has borne the brunt of hosting refugees in large number (Uganda currently hosts over 1M refugees, Kenya hosts over 600k, having hosted for close to 30yrs now) and yet the world has remained largely ignorant up until Syria blew up in 2011 and thousands upon thousands of Syrians got on boats and found their way to Europe. Africans from various parts followed suit and Europe was now officially in crisis mode.
The world suddenly became alive to the existence of refugees but even then, with reservations. The propaganda started with refugees being viewed as terrorists, as criminal elements who were turning Europe into a refugee centre. Funds miraculously became available to contain the fleeing human beings to their countries so as to prevent them from making the perilous journey across the seas to Europe. The crisis now demanded international attention. Still, the world remains ignorant, as evidenced by the Goodreads reviews. Well, at least until Lefteri wrote a book about it. There’s such outrage in the reviews but I am glad people are reading the book, in the palatable trigger free way it’s been presented. As a glimpse into a people whose lives have been torn apart by wars that have nothing to do with them, but not so much so that it triggers any past traumas or upsets the reader.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo maps the story of Nuri, a beekeeper and his wife Afra, an artist, living a simple life in Aleppo, Syria, until their world is torn apart by war. Their son, Sami is killed in a bomb explosion which also blinds Afra. Now Nuri and Afra can no longer afford to stay and are forced to flee in search of safety, across Turkey and Greece to Britain where their cousin, Moustapha, awaits.
Lefteri focuses on the human story and not so much on the flight and the journey to safety and I applaud her for giving an empathetic insight into the refugee experience. She however packs a lot in this small book and everything imaginable and unimaginable that could happen to a refugee family on flight happens to Nuri and Afra – from sexual abuse, to dangerous inflatable boat rides across the seas, to PTSD and the hectic and unpredictable asylum process. It’s a lot and this is where it misses the mark. It’s quite easy to detach.
I was rooting for Nuri and Afra but I was not invested in it.