Aleppo was a beautiful city before the civil war brought unrest and violence to Syria. The Beekeeper of Aleppo provides a glimpse of this beauty before the civil war swept Syria with violence and destruction.
Nuri was a beekeeper and his wife an artist whose paintings of rural and urban areas of the country won her many awards. They had a three year old son, Sami. Nuri’s cousin, Mustafa, had introduced him to beekeeping and together they ran a profitable business. It was Mustafa who first realised that trouble was brewing and made plans to send his wife and daughter to England while he stayed behind with his teenaged son to see to the bees.
‘I just can’t abandon the bees, Nuri,’ he said one night, his large hand coming down over his face and his beard, as if he was trying to wipe off the sombre expression he always wore now. ‘The bees are family to us.’
One night vandals destroyed the hives and with all the bees dead, Mustafa was ready to leave Aleppo along with Nuri and his family. But before he could left tragedy struck both families.
Mustafa managed to get out of Syria in time but Afra refused to leave. Trauma had blinded her, physically and mentally, and it took a threat on her husband’s life to awaken her to their danger.
The political scene had deteriorated so much that men and boys were forced into fighting and leaving the country was fraught with danger.
The story follows Nuri and Afra as they escape via Turkey to Greece and the perils they encounter on the way. They planned to join Mustafa in England but everything was so uncertain and the smugglers they depended upon untrustworthy. Even in Athens there were dangers and it seemed as if they’d never find a safe resting place. Trauma had laid its hand on both man and wife and changed them both. Now they had to learn to know each other again.
Christy Lefteri is the child of Cypriot refugees and spent time working at a refugee centre in Athens. The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a work of fiction but it grew out of what she saw, heard and felt on the streets and camps in Athens. A letter from the author at the end of the book describes how the idea for the story came to her and the impact her work with refugees made upon her.
Lefteri doesn’t shy away from the reality of civil war, the trauma suffered by refugees and especially the danger to unaccompanied minors in refugee camps, but she doesn’t dwell on it either. I thought this was handled well, giving the reader enough details but not too explicitly. It is a compassionate look at the plight of people caught up in messes not of their own making and the choices made by individuals to either to help or prey upon those who have nowhere else to turn.
One thing I wasn’t enamoured with was the shifting timeline of the story. This seems to be a common device of modern authors but it doesn’t always work. I thought it was confusing in this case.
A plus - two nice full page maps showing Syria and Nuri and Afra’s journey. If I were a publisher this would be mandatory for any book involving a journey.