- Book: The Beekeeper of Aleppo
- Location: England, Greece, Syria, Turkey
- Author: Christy Lefteri
The Beekeeper of Aleppo is said to be one of the books to really look out for in 2019. It is easy to see why. It is a haunting and emotional story of one refugee family’s journey from Aleppo in Syria to the UK.
The book opens with Nuri and his wife, Afra, in bed and breakfast accommodation on the South Coast of England. We know they have made the journey safely as they wait for their asylum claim to be processed. We then switch back to the start of their journey in Aleppo. Nuri and his cousin, Mustafa, were commercial beekeepers and successful businessmen before the war tore their lives apart. The had seen horrors which no one should have to see. Mustafa sent his wife and daughter off to England, and then followed himself (along the refugee route) when their hives had been burnt to the ground and it became too dangerous for him to remain in Aleppo. Afra did not want to leave Aleppo but then, once she and Nuri had seen their young son, Sami, killed by a bomb as he played in the garden, they decided to follow. Nuri paid a smuggler to get them into Turkey and to start the long journey north. After weeks of trudging across Turkey and living in wretched lodgings in Istanbul, more smugglers took them across the Adriatic in a totally unseaworthy boat – they were rescued (as were so many) by the Greek coastguard. They were moved on via a processing island to desperately overcrowded camps in Athens. They waited for weeks in fear of their lives from those (some fellow refugees, some not) who preyed on them. The NGOs helped, but they were totally out of their depth.
Eventually they found another smuggler who for €5,000 (they were lucky in that they had money with them unlike so many…) changed their appearance, and produced new Italian passports and airline tickets to fly them to the UK via Madrid – where they could claim asylum.
The journey from Syria was a very difficult one mentally for both Nuri and Afra. Afra had gone blind as a result of seeing her son die in her arms (though her sight begins to return towards the end of the book), and Nuri was suffering from what we now know to be post traumatic stress disorder. His mind, behaviour, and imagination kept flipping back into the horrors of the past. They are pretty troubled and dysfunctional in the South of England B&B. Throughout the journey, though, Nuri manages to keep in intermitent email touch with Mustafa now successfully located to Yorkshire and embarking on a new beekeeping career. The thought of being able to join him keeps him going. Mustafa eventually finds them as the book closes.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a very well-worked novel by British author Christy Lefteri (who, incidentally, works as a Unicef volunteer at a refugee centre in Athens – and thus has a lot of the background). For me its greatest strength is that I understood from reading it the full horrors of the journey that so many undertook in a way that the news footage could never explain. It is a very sad indictment of our times that we force completely innocent people to endure such pain and hardship.