Review: The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a novel about the universal plight of refugees, no matter where they come from. Although centered around two Syrian refugees the book also touches on the situations and journeys of people that have fled from war-torn areas around Syria. This book tells the story of Nuri and Afra, a couple leading a pleasant and content family life in the populous Syrian governorate of Aleppo before they are forced to leave when the Civil War turns their lives upside down. Christy Lefteri tells the tale of their sail, trek and expedition to safety and how it changes both of them for the better and worse. This also highlights their search for a home untouched by destruction and a night’s sleep uninterrupted by the sound of bomb blasts. But, is it possible to live in normalcy after one has suffered enough to last a lifetime?

The narrator of the book is Nuri. A beekeeper who lives in the dazzling city of Aleppo with his wife Afra, an artist. Christy Lefteri’s descriptions of Aleppo seem quite accurate considering she’s never set foot in Syria because of obvious reasons. I read she gets her inspiration from listening to actual Syrian refugees while volunteering at a refugee centre in Athens. Nuri and Afra are strong, simple yet entwined in a blissful past where pain was nowhere in sight. Nuri seems calm in the midst of chaos, stable. But you can see that he isn’t and that memories of a better time and the frustration of injustice faced by his family still tugs at him beneath that calm. Afra’s grief, on the other hand, is very evident. She is literally blinded by her sorrow. We see a huge change in her persona before and after the war where she was lively, creative and right where she needed to be as opposed to when the Syrian Civil War prevails.

So, Nuri wishes to go to Britain which most people he admits this to tell him it’s an impossible journey. Yet, he is determined to reach his destination despite all odds against him. As they progress through the journey, Lefteri brings out how unimaginable loss changes the way you perceive the world and how difficult it is to adapt to a new life what with the hurry and urgency with which you’re forced to leave what was once paradise behind. Nuri and Afra endure a long journey residing in overcrowded camps, taking shelter under the roofs of NGOs in Turkey and Greece, meeting all kinds of people as exhausted as them and doubting whether Britain will even be worth it.

I read something once, on the lines of how refugees are often treated as if they are taking up space, infringing on another land and stealing homes but probably all they wish to do is go back. To be in the comfort of their own homes. A foreign land where they are hardly treated like human beings is the last place they’d long to be. Christy Lefteri used a beekeeper as the protagonist of her book. She also brought bees as a community to symbolize various things along the story. The bees act as a sort of light at the end of the tunnel in Nuri’s life. Bees thrive in their hives and with others like them. They can also build a home in any given environment over time. A bee away from the hive is often wingless and helpless, all of this much like Nuri and Afra.

The war is a topic that although is the cause of all upheaval in the book, is not mentioned much. I don’t think this is a bad thing because it just shows us that in times of such suffering, do Nuri and Afra even care about the war? Are they more concerned about surviving or who wins? I realized that they aren’t too sure about its causes themselves either. No specific incidents or parties are mentioned and it’s better that way because there’s enough coverage about that in media. I’m glad Lefteri doesn’t give us details because not only is the story alright without them but it’s also a Google search away and it pushes people to do their research about the war.

Final thoughts~ The Beekeeper of Aleppo is an eye-opening and powerful book. It is sad but it wouldn’t have as much of an effect if it wasn’t and it gives you hope and reassurance when needed. The book takes you from Syria to Britain and ties it all so well at the end. Christy Lefteri made good use of her time spent volunteering and managed to cast a light on the unheard stories of Syrian refugees.

“I wanted to set forth the idea that among profound, unspeakable loss, humans can still find love and light and see one another.”

~Christy Lefteri, The Beekeeper of Aleppo.

OTHER REVIEWS OF THE BOOK:

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The Beekeeper of Aleppo~ Christy Lefteri

Book Review: The Beekeeper of Aleppo

Christy Lefteri, The Beekeeper of Aleppo (2019)

Review: Honour by Elif Shafak

Honour is an inter-generational saga set in 1970s London which highlights the narrow-minded and dangerous opinion of some cultures when it comes to a woman’s ‘honour’. Written by an author who excels in narrating domestic settings and struggles, Honour is yet another work of fiction where Elif Shafak does not fail to leave us speechless, retrospective and entranced with her words. This is a book which shows us the importance of communication and how we as human beings lack the ability to share our troubles and thoughts with one another. How falling short of this ability often costs us relationships and how understanding and communication could possibly save a life. It highlights the impact someone’s actions have on those around them, along with other aspects of the immigrant life all the while, subtly reflecting on the clash of cultures and traditions.

A theme I find common to Shafak’s books is the realization that everyone in your life has their stories, their struggles and are very often absorbed by them. In Honour, this theme is brought to life by the focus of the book- the Topraks, a Turkish family disconnected from each other most of the time and broken by their individual experiences. Pembe and Adem Toprak leave for London from Istanbul to start a new life for their family and try to keep their Turkish and Islamic traditions alive in their three children- knowing they will be influenced by Western ways of life. The children find themselves torn between tradition and modernity, further troubled by the stifling situation at home.

By telling us the stories of Pembe and Adem, who had tough childhoods, absentee parents and dysfunctional families the author shows us that however hard you try, you cannot escape or erase the past. For it will find a way to catch up with you and seep into your present. This is another trademark theme of Shafak’s books- expressed here through Pembe and Adem’s past affecting their lives in London as well as those of their children who suffer its consequences.

The basis of the book is of course the concept of ‘honour’ and its varying perceptions in Turkish and Western culture. In the case of the Topraks, honour is more of a code consisting of the chastity, fidelity and modesty of a woman and a man’s ability to lead and assert his power over his family and ‘act like a man’. Thus we see how breaking of this oppressive code leads to shame and disgrace of various members specifically women of the Toprak’s past and unbelievably, their death. Honour killings, which Western culture would think of as a brutal crime is somewhat normalized in the minds of certain characters in the book.

In Honour, Elif Shafak brings light to a topic that isn’t talked about enough- honour killings. She lays emphasis on what I would assume is the reader’s perspective, that is the dark and wrong side of honour killings but provides insight into the mindset which fuels it as well. This is done through the characters for instance, two of the Toprak children- Iskender and Esma. Esma is the outspoken and confident feminist daughter (one of my personal favourites) who questions her mother’s old-fashioned traditions. Esma is juxtaposed with her brother Iskender, a product of the expectations of men. He finds himself shaped by bullying and conservative friends and family. So, you disagree with his opinions but can’t help empathize with him as well for what he’s gone through.

Final thoughts~ Overall, Elif Shafak’s Honour is a powerful read. It shows us that honour is but a social construct which can ruin lives. The same honour which determines someone’s reputation in Turkish society does not hold the same importance in Western culture. We see how ‘shame’ is considered almost a punishable crime in the eyes of Pembe, but is used lightly by the Londoners around her. Even if the ending is a hopeful one, the devastating events described throughout the book still leave your heart heavy. This book takes you places whether it be a nameless Kurdish village or a building of squatters in London. Elif Shafak’s books take something esoteric, such as an honour killing and make it something approachable. She is such an underrated author.

“Everything in the universe, no matter how little or insignificant, was meant to be an answer to something else.”

~Elif Shafak, Honour.

OTHER REVIEWS OF THE BOOK:

Honour by Elif Shafak

Honour- Elif Shafak

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