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:

for podcast listeners- The Book Club Review

The Beekeeper of Aleppo~ Christy Lefteri

Book Review: The Beekeeper of Aleppo

Christy Lefteri, The Beekeeper of Aleppo (2019)

Review: The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Adichie

After reading Americanah, an unputdownable book full of wit and vigour- I was itching to read another one of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s works and this anthology of twelve short stories did not disappoint. Coming up with twelve different stories, ensuring their plots don’t clash and their characters vary in their personalities all the while, sticking to the common theme of ‘the thing around your neck’ is hard to do but she has executed that effectively. In this book she’s given us some poignant and touching stories which stay with you long after you read their last lines. You can’t help but take a break after each one to ponder upon its lessons and meaning and really read between the lines.

The Thing Around Your Neck features the tales of various Nigerian women, all from different walks of life and varying in age. The stories are set in a range of time periods from the mid-1900s to the 2000s and the protagonists are from every strata of society and some are placed in the U.S.A as well. We see one thing common to all stories and that is the essence and culture of Nigeria which is alive in all of the protagonists. Despite being in different times and situations, the women are subjected to the same repression and orthodoxy, but remain empowered nonetheless. From exploring corruption in Nigerian authorities to the terrors of immigration to the oppression caused by gender roles, making us accomplice to ethnic-wars and riots and of course, her compelling feminist epiphanies, Adichie really takes us full circle.

Although this book included themes common to Adichie’s work, something I found unique to this book and what I believe she excels at writing is grief. Devoting certain stories to the aftermath of losing a loved one and the toll it takes on human beings, she’s given us an insight into a rather complex feeling well and told the tale with understanding and sensitivity. Such stories in the book resonate with you and are truly heartrending. One thing I recommend if you’re curious to know more about any story is to read its analysis and symbolism, I found a great site for this and I’ve linked it at the end.

I don’t want to disclose any plots or characters because I’d be revealing too much, but just know that this book has some intricate and gripping storylines. For those of you who’ve read the book, I wanted to reveal some of my favourite stories from the collection. Don’t get me wrong all of them moved me but some simply resonated with me more and were real page-turners. In particular, A Private Experience, Jumping Monkey Hill, Tomorrow Is Too Far and The Headstrong Historian.

The Thing Around Your Neck is one of the stories in the anthology, but it raises the question, why is it the title of the book? What is the ‘thing around your neck’? In my opinion, it’s the characters’ discontent, their past, culture or even grief and loneliness in some cases which is almost like a prison that doesn’t seem to leave them. The ‘thing around your neck’ is always lingering and casting its shadow.

Final thoughts~ Overall, this collection is a vivid and powerful one. It focuses on everyday aspects of life and relationship that are painful yet considered normal because everyone goes through them at some point. If anything, this book is a good reference for anyone looking to read short stories because the ones in The Thing Around Your Neck are great examples of what a sequence and build-up of a short story should be like.

“He said “see” as if it meant something more than what one did with one’s eyes”

~Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Thing Around Your Neck

REFERENCE:

The Thing Around Your Neck Guide