By Jenn Cook
Garfield County Libraries staff
It is hard to wrap my head around the hardships experienced by children and families around the world whose lives are in upheaval from war and unrest. Sometimes the reality is so brutal that it is easier to digest in fiction. “The Beekeeper of Aleppo” by Christy Lefteri tells the story of Nuri and his young family as they seek asylum from their war-torn homeland.
Nuri’s family watches helplessly as civil war descends and disrupts their simple way of life, tending beehives and selling honey products in Syria. Their plans to flee are put on hold by a family crisis. Nuri and his wife Afra, frozen by tragedy and trauma, are unable to force themselves to seek safety. The violent opening paragraphs describing the savagery of war was certainly uncomfortable for me to read. When Nuri faces an ultimatum under threat of death, it is the trigger that finally sets them into motion.
Because Afra is blind, Nuri describes their experiences in vivid sensory detail. We hear the buzzing bees and the crashing waves, we smell the spices and the flowers, we taste the different flavors of honey and the tea with milk. An interesting stream-of-consciousness technique is used that submerses the reader in the narrator’s train of thought. In the middle of each chapter, a sentence is abruptly interrupted, the last word is left off, and that word becomes the first word of the next flashback section. Each chapter begins in a bed-and-breakfast in the UK — where a group of asylum seekers from different places is housed while they wait to be granted refugee status — and shifts to memories of the past and the journey to this place.
As they travel through the refugee camps of Turkey and Greece, migrants from all over the Middle East and Northern Africa attempt to find normalcy in their current existence, despite the trauma experienced in their home countries and the dangers they continue to face on the journey. Children play games, mothers care for infants, and others find solace in drawing or playing musical instruments. In one exchange, Nuri speaks in Arabic to another man who responds in Farsi, and they both laugh to discover that their common language is English. Along the way, Nuri interacts with a young boy named Mohammed who is traveling alone. Nuri takes him under his wing until they become separated, and much of the story revolves around unraveling where Mohammed came from, what happened to his parents and whether he is safe.
Beekeeping is not a vocation that can thrive in chaos. “Where there are bees there are flowers, and where there are flowers there is new life and hope.” It is this thread of hope that keeps Nuri and Afra moving forward to seek a life of peace and order.
This is a powerfully written book that helped me see a current crisis with a complex history through different eyes. I think it will help you see the world a little differently too.
“Recommended Reading” is a new collaboration between The Sopris Sun and the Garfield County Public Libraries District, highlighting important literature available at local libraries.