I actually came across this book on a photographer’s blog, in which I wasn’t looking for book recommendations, but I found it none the less. I am embarrassed to say that while the unrest in Syria has been going on for decades, it is one of the conflicts that I do not know very much about, be it from my own ignorance or simply a lack of Western coverage, needless to say- I have a somewhat emotional connection to it now, so my interest was definitely peeked. While this book is fiction, it still shed some light on the harrowing human toll this conflict has caused. As of March 2020, World Vision estimates that over 12 million Syrians have been displaced, with 6.2 million displaced within Syria. So it is still a very real and ongoing struggle and devastating consequences; to this day. This week’s blog post is a review of Christy Lefteri’s The Beekeeper of Aleppo. Let us know what you think.
The book follows the epic journey of Nuri and his blind wife Afra, who are forced to flee their native land of Syria, in search for a safer life in England. It takes them through Turkey, Greece and ultimately England, on a harrowing journey facing, so many life threatening events. Nuri himself, who attempts to remain strong for his wife, is himself coping with the death of their son Sami.
She tries to hold my hand, and I edge it away. My hands belong to another time, when loving my wife was a simple thing.
Nuri Ibrahim : Beekeeper
Afra Ibrahim : Nuri’s wife
Mustafa : Nuri’s cousin and fellow beekeeper
Sami : Nuri & Afra’s son who was killed during the uprising.
Mohammed: A little refugee boy Nuri takes under his wings
Break It Down
Resilience. The human spirit. Determination. The will to live. Those are the main words which come to mind when I think of this book. In a lot of ways, this book is a love story in a tragic and heartbreaking circumstance, a father’s love, a man’s deep love for his wife and ultimately love for your family. You could feel Nuri’s love for his wife through the pages, his deep connection with her, his desire to bring back the woman he fell in love with, but his tragic understanding that their shared loss had changed her. Throughout the book, it’s almost as if Nuri’s focus on his wife’s well-being and her “recovery” is what allows him to deflect from his own needs and his own trauma. The fact that he is creates Mohammed as a coping mechanism, allows him to keep pushing through despite the fact that no one else seems to be able to see him. It’s clear that Nuri created Mohammed as a sit in for the son they lost, who was of a similar age. At the same time, it was really sad reading this as my heart went out to Nuri, his trauma was raw and in some ways he attempted to ignore it and it caught up to him. The one thing I didn’t really like was how simplistically the author attempted to show how easily Nuri was able to realize Mohammed was in his imagination, and simply snap out of it. When the realities of mental health are not that simple. I just felt if the book was attempting to be as accurate as possible about the refugee crisis then the topic of mental health is definitely relevant and also necessary to give a clearer picture of its nuances.
But I don’t like this queues, their order, their neat little gardens and neat little porches and their bay windows that glow at night with the flickering TV’s. It all reminds me that these people have never seen war. It reminds me that back home there is no one watching TV in their living room or on their veranda, and it makes me thing of everything that’s been destroyed.
Heartbreaking and in some respects soul crushing. I cannot know the levels of despair and loss Syrian refugees or any refugees have gone through. It is genuinely unfathomable. My mother left her native country of Grenada for Canada, but this wasn’t because of conflict, she was searching for a new life and better opportunities for us. I can’t imagine having to leave quickly, in the dead of night, for fear of your life, paying a smuggler, unknowing whether they are trustworthy or otherwise. To then be thrust into refugee camp after refugee camp, with a level of despair and lawlessness all while dealing with your own demons, pressure to survive and the responsibility of keeping your blind, depressed wife alive as well. It was all so overwhelming for me to even begin to think about this, words fail me.
Throughout the book, I could feel Nuri’s deep love for his wife, he is nurturing, caring, and in the midst of all they’re going through, he’s still thoughtful and in any way he attempts to find things which will bring a small smile to her face. So it confused me in the moments when he would reject her attempts at being intimate with him, and I don’t mean in a sexual way. He would spend the day walking the streets in search of food or salvage things and upon his return she would greedily ask him to describe what he saw in detail. She was using him as her eyes, and the fact that he in some way held that power, he would choose to withhold information of give her kernels of information instead of considering how isolating it might be for her. They have been through such a tough, unimaginable trauma and in the midst of her depression, she was reaching out to him and attempting to connect and his rejection of her felt so heartbreaking to me. But, that being said, when the reader finds out the reason why he couldn’t bring himself to be near Afra is because he blamed himself for her sexual assault. I suppose seeing her reach for him made him feel more shame and guilt because a part of his wife was taken away from him and from her as well. I have to say though, that unfortunately, I wasn’t surprised or blind sighted by the rape, because I’ve read enough about refugee camps to know that this does occur there (rape literally happens everywhere), and in some way the fact that in the book it doesn’t occur in the camp, I feel was a conscious choice by the author.
Q : After finishing the book, describe how you felt in one word.
A : Heavy, I was crying my eyes out at many areas, by the time I got to page 50, it really is such a devastating book about the human spirit and love; deep committed love between Nuri and Afra. I closed the book with a slight smile as it ended on a hopeful note, but still feeling sore because this situation is still very much ongoing and the pain and suffering is amplified by the millions.
Q : Which character did you feel more emotionally connected to Nuri or Afra and why?
A : I don’t know if it is merely because she is female, but I connected with Afra more, she had a quiet ability to “read” situations despite her blindness, whether it’s because her other skills were honed much more acutely. But she seemed so incredibly strong and steady, although it’s not evident- it takes amazing levels of strength.
Q : When did you figure out that Mohammed was a product of Nuri’s imagination? And how did you feel about that revelation?
A : It clicked for me before they crossed the waters from Turkey into Greece, something about the fact that Afra was ignoring Mohammed and no one else seemed to talk to him struck me as odd. Considering the fact that Afra lost a son around a similar age, it didn’t strike me as within her personality to ignore a child. Also, when Nuri described him he consistently said Mohammed had black eyes, which is impossible so this struck me as odd and the fact that he was always being taken somewhere by Mohammed, it definitely struck me as a mental illness, but I recognized that that fixation allowed him to cope with his grief and devastation. By the time the revelation came about, I wasn’t surprised by it because it all made sense to me. Maybe it’s because I have had personal experience witnessing someone close to me grapple with reality and struggle with being able to see truths from fiction, maybe I spotted the signs sooner.
I feel like the author should have explained more about what was really happening in order to cause Nuri & Afra and millions of other Syrians to leave their birth country, but I wonder if the author figured that was redundant or that her audience already knew about this situation. Or maybe she didn’t want to appear biased or against the current government. It all seemed so very vague, I also didn’t like the glossy way in which she touched on mental health, how Nuri was able to simply “snap” out of his mental fog in recognizing the fact that Mohammed was literally a figment of his imagination. Mental health is so much more complex and the fact that he doesn’t get to this through seeking help from a professional, I feel is a little unrealistic. Like the very day Nuri realized about Mohammed is also the day he is finally reunited with Mustafa and also the very same day Afra is able to begin to see light and mild shadows?! That is literally one epic day.