‘In the midst of war, he found love
In the midst of darkness, he found courage
In the midst of tragedy, he found hope
What will you find from his story?
Nuri is a beekeeper; his wife, Afra, an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo – until the unthinkable happens. When all they care for is destroyed by war, they are forced to escape.
As Nuri and Afra travel through a broken world, they must confront not only the pain of their own unspeakable loss, but dangers that would overwhelm the bravest of souls. Above all – and perhaps this is the hardest thing they face – they must journey to find each other again.’
The Beekeeper of Aleppo is the harrowing tale of Nuri, the beekeeper of the title, and his wife, Afra, as they attempt to travel from Syria to the UK as the conflict in their homeland makes life increasingly unbearable. In a series of flashbacks and days since their arrival in the UK, who and what they were before conflict reached them is revealed, along with the hardships of their efforts to leave Syria behind and ultimately reach a place of safety – with none being truly safe; not even the UK, where their being granted asylum is in no way guaranteed.
A large part of their journey is spent in various camps once they have made it across the ocean, and it’s these passages that have stuck with me the most; these elements that I believe people need to read and learn about to gain a better understanding of what is happening to people in the refugee camps across Europe. Largely, the media (at least, the British media) appears to rarely report on this anymore, with the day to day lives of the people still living and arriving in these places hardly brought to the public’s attention. The suffering that is still happening every day is highlighted in Nuri’s experience of the camps and what he has to do to make sure that he and Afra survive, much of the truth of it concealed from her, owing to her blindness. The mental impact of being kept in these camps and treated so inhumanely is not only explored through Nuri, but in the characters that he meets, all of whom have their own stories to tell and are likewise struggling to survive, with some taking advantage of their fellow refugees in dark and disturbing ways. The story itself may be fiction, but the setting and the circumstances are a reality for too many, the lives of the characters all too haunting in that there is very little ‘fictional’ about their experiences.
I loved the use of the one word pages to thread together the end of one section and the beginning of the next; I felt they were very effective, particularly as they are often signalling flashbacks and create that disjointed moment between reality and what the mind creates of the past. Admittedly, I was sometimes a little confused as to the order of events, though the past and present are usually signalled with changes of tense: this is something that, for me, occurred more often in the last third of the book, as the impact of the war on Nuri’s mental state is becoming more and more apparent and severe, and it could be that this slightly jumbled element of the narrative reflects his PTSD and inability to completely separate reality, the past, and what his trauma has created in an attempt to let him better cope with what he has gone (and is still going) through. Nuri’s concerns seem primarily for his wife, and this misdirection, with her needs seeming greater, prolong the revelation of the extent of his trauma, particularly as the reader experiences the world only from his point of view. His treatment of Afra seems devoted and callous by turn, a need to know the reasons for the latter something that encourages reading on.
The writing itself is beautiful and seemingly practical by turn, the use of shorter sentence structures, in particular in the chapters/passages that describe Nuri and Afra’s life in the UK, lending a practical edge that emphasises the fact that Nuri is more functioning rather than experiencing life (this is only my perception of the structures used and why). There is nothing gratuitous about what violence and suffering is experienced throughout the novel, its quiet and crafted elegance another reminder that they are a reality for those seeking sanctuary from war.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo is out on May 2nd! Thank you, Zaffe Books, for sending me a copy.