Chrisy Lefteri’s The Beekeeper of Aleppo is everywhere! And with the release of her latest book Songbirds, I thought it was time to finally see what all the reviews were about.
The novel predominantly follows Nuri and Afra, husband and wife, as they travel to England in an attempt to seek asylum. They were living a simple and easy life until the Syrian Civil War began. They were warned to leave but they were one of the last to leave. Nuri agreed to stay behind until the last minute for his wife — his grieving wife. And what he didn’t know was he was grieving too; for the loss of their son Sami who was hit by a bomb. Afra was too but she was only blinded. Or so she thinks that is the cause.
The novel jumps back and forth from the present day in England where they are staying at a bed and breakfast getting ready to be interviewed and from their journey across the globe. The reader follows their struggle in refugee camps and their travels across dangerous seas — everything that happens in reality too.
Leferti was inspired by her two summers in Athens where she worked at a refugee centre. Up close and personal she got to see the people who were suffering, often dehumanised by the news. Her novel allows for humanity to be restored to Syrian War refugees. It also shows how quickly life can turn upside down and the bravery it takes to adapt and carry on. In extreme situations, it is incredible what a human being can do.
As you might have seen I gave this book three stars. I always feel guilty about giving books with important messages a lower rating — although three stars for me means it is a solid book. But the story did not pack the punch I thought it was. I was not connected to the characters. My heart did not ache much for the tragedy they went through. I believe this is because of the writing and the narrative style.
Nuri is the narrator and he is trying to act strong for his wife. He has to dress her and explain the new world to her. The first person narrative seems to remove a lot of emotional depth from the story. If it were third-person I think the suffering of each character (especially the exploration of Afra) would have made the book even more powerful.
Nonetheless, there were aspects of Nuri’s narrative which were upsetting. Although I figured out what was happening with Nuri’s mental state from the beginning, when the truth was revealed to him about their journey, it still hurt to read.
And finally, let’s talk about bees. Nuri was a beekeeper before he left Aleppo — hence the title! His love and devotion for the job, and his cousin, is evident. As they travel the bee aspect of the novel kind of disappears. It is not until they reach England that the bee symbolism reappears. And the symbolism and meaning that is instilled into the book are beautiful but it would have again been more impactful to have a bee during every step of the journey. Bees have a system for migrants — a much better one than human beings — and the side by side comparison would have been fruitful.
So while The Beekeeper of Aleppo was a slightly unsatisfactory title for me the book was well-written and easy to read. It shines an important light on the life of refugees and overall Leferti shows us that they are just humans like ourselves who have suffered more than they ever should.