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Review – “The Beekeeper of Aleppo” by Christy Lefteri

No, his dark thoughts came from somewhere else, as if he had already become afraid of losing everything, as if some echo from the future was reaching back and whispering in his ear.

There is something attractive about tragedy, isn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, no, I am not a sadist. I am far from it. I regard the suffering of living beings as the most dreadful thing that could ever happen. But I don’t deny that there is a quality in tragic things that attracts living beings towards themselves.
The Syrian civil war has now been raging for almost 8 years. Numerous dead and uncountable displaced, yet the world is watching with fascination.

“You know, if we love something it will be taken away.”

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri is the first book that I have read that has the Syrian civil war as its backdrop. It is the tale of Nuri and Afra and so many more like them, fleeing their country and taking paths unknown, towards something they don’t know. In the journey that could lead them to their end, or to light, Nuri and Afra must battle not only with the devils that lurk behind shadows but also their own demons that threaten to tear them apart. 

I am glad that she’s blind. I know what that sounds like! If I could give her a key that opened a door into another world, then I would wish for her to see again.

Lost in the stone grey abyss of his wife’s blindness, Nuri narrates his story. He and Afra are staying at B&B in the South of England, waiting for their caseworker to lead them to the interview where their future will be decided. You see, they are seeking asylum in the dreamy and safe UK from their country Syria, which has been ravaged by war. It isn’t as easy as it looks. Humans are the worst of the animals, capable of inflicting the deadliest harm on their fellow species and not bat an eyelid. But for those who have been damaged beyond repair, does anything matter anymore? 

I wish I knew who my enemy was.

In 2015, when Nuri and Afra started their journey from their home in Aleppo, they didn’t know what the future held for them, yet they walked and walked into the unknown. Everything that they loved and owned was destroyed by the war, they didn’t have a choice but to leave the country of their birth and right, and go to their cousin Mustafa and his family who have already made it there. At least Nuri knew this and he pushed a reluctant Afra to leave every day until something happened that jolted her back to the horrors of their reality. They met thousands of other lost souls like themselves on their mammoth journey on the refugee trail through Europe. Facing prejudice and hatred, from Aleppo to Istanbul to Greece and finally, England, crossing over treacherous land and stormy water for what seemed like ages, Nuri and Afra lose much more than their physical self and money, they lose their soul in trying to find their future.

Sometimes I think if I keep walking, I will find some light, but I know that I can walk to the other side of the world and there will still be darkness. It’s not like the darkness of the night, which also has white light from the stars, from the moon. This darkness is inside me…

Let me start by saying that I am fascinated by war stories and stories that speak of the cruelty of humans towards humans. I am fascinated to read about the lengths they will go to, to achieve their agenda, to inflict misery, and to just satiate their sadistic selves. It appalls me, but above anything else, it makes me thankful for what I have, and in reality, makes my problems shrink and my life much easier to live.

This is what I wanted: to be with Afra in a world that was still unbroken.

Written in deceptively simple language, the story flows. And with it, the reader. It barely took me two days with a toddler hanging on my legs to finish this one. It is one of those books that doesn’t let you keep it down until you have read the end, but then the end is not actually the end. It is just the beginning of your own tears and a resounding WHY!?
Ms. Christy is a talented author. As she seamlessly blends the past with the present, she doesn’t let her writing become overbearing. It is just enough to let the reader grasp the full essence without making them cringe at the exaggeration of the fictional plot. The emotions are left raw, untouched by the author’s pen. A tree is called a tree and not a canopy of flickering green in the sun. Subtly and effectively the author lets the reader into the lives of the refugees.

There is always one person in the group who has more courage than the rest. It takes bravery to cry out, to release what is in your heart.

As much as Christy’s writing impressed me, I am more in awe of her art of storytelling. This book isn’t necessarily about the war, there is hardly any politics and just about some events of violence, but the whole book reeks of violence that is happening around the people. The writing isn’t dark or depressing, yet it is the only thing that you would feel while reading it. Nuri and Afra travel together but live in their own troubled worlds. The trauma that has befallen them hasn’t distanced them physically but they aren’t what they used to be. The bleak present and hopeless past are interspersed by the time before the war when life was good and the bees hummed and the children played and when one could walk with their head held high and sleep peacefully under their roof. More than anything, the story is about hope and human desperation for want of a good life, at least a bearable life.

…and then it saddened me when I realized that Sami has been born in a world where everything could break.

The more I write, the more I will lessen the impact this book has had on me. So let me just end here by mentioning one last thing. Something from this book reminds me of that photo once printed on the front page of newspapers around the world. A face-down toddler on the beach, drowned and dead. His only fault was that he was born in a war-torn country and wanted to escape for a better future. I look at my daughter, same age as him when he breathed his last, and say a prayer of thank you to the Almighty for having blessed us with a life that doesn’t end like that. Be thankful for what you have, many in the world would go out on a limb and kill for half of that.
Despite the broken world that we all live in, there is hope that tomorrow would be better and our children will see better days than today.

Where there are bees, there are flowers and where there are flowers there is new life and hope.

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