Book Review: The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christi Lefteri

Book - The Beekeeper of Aleppo

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is, without doubt, one of the saddest books I have ever read. It is told from the perspective of Nuri, a man who is fleeing the horrors of war with his wife Afra, who was blinded when a bomb exploded at their home, killing their young son. They leave Syria, hoping to join Nuri’s cousin, Mustafa, who has already made it to England, and their journey is fraught danger.

Through flashbacks, we gradually discover what life was like for Nuri growing up in Aleppo before the war, how he spent years learning the art of beekeeping from Mustafa, helping to turn their small enterprise into a thriving business, while Afra made a living as a successful artist. Their life in the present, as they await judgement on their claim for asylum in a small B&B on England’s south coast, is so far removed from what went before that it feels utterly surreal, almost dream-like in comparison to the vivid memories of what they’ve been through.

Gradually, we begin to find out more about their fellow asylum seekers, the people they are living alongside, and those they met on their journey. They are treated abominably by some, and with overwhelming kindness by others. And always, in the background there is an unnerving acknowledgement that somewhere behind all the terrible things that Nuri and Afra must witness, there are human beings, allowing these things to happen.

In the B&B we see the interactions of strangers from different countries, brought together as they seek out a new beginning, a place where they might be able to escape the trauma of the past. It is here that Nuri and Afra must begin to recover from their ordeal, in the company of others who have also lost their families, homes and livelihoods…

The Moroccan man slurps the tea like it’s the best thing he’s ever tasted. He smacks his lips together after each gulp. He checks his phone occasionally, then closes his book and tap-taps it with his palm like it’s the head of a child.

‘What’s that on your palm?’ he says.

I hold out my hand so that he can see the bee. ‘She has no wings,’ I say. ‘I suspect she has the deformed wing virus.’

We see how the past haunts both Afra and Nuri in different ways, and how they must each come to terms with their loss. And we see the strange bureaucracy of the UK asylum system from the perspective of those who need it most.

This is a book packed with emotion and heartbreak, vivid and intense. It was inspired by the true stories of refugees and asylum seekers, whom the author met whilst volunteering for Unicef in Athens. At the centre of this story is a sense of hope that, despite the horrors of war, these people might, somehow, be able to find a way forward. It is beautifully written, and full of compassion – a book that goes to the heart of human endurance.

Buy a copy of The Beekeeper of Aleppo

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