‘The Beekeeper of Aleppo’ By Christy Lefteri: A bee that learnt to live without wings
If you knew how this book came to me, how beautifully it related to the previously read book, in a strange and inexplicable way, showing me once again that nothing is accidental when it comes to books and their selection! Each book is a bridge to the next. This time, the bridge took me to the ‘The Beekeeper of Aleppo’.
About the author
According to Christy Lefteri‘s author profile on Goodreads platform, the young writer was born in London in 1980 to Greek Cypriot parents who moved to London in 1974 during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus (historical event that will inspire the author’s first book). She completed a degree in English and a Masters in creative writing at Brunel University. She taught English to foreign students and then became a secondary school teacher but she quitted in order to pursue a PhD and to focus on writing. At the same time, she is studying to become a psychotherapist.
In 2010 she published her first book – “A Watermelon, a Fish and a Bible”, and in 2019 her name became known in the international literary world by publishing the novel “The Beekeeper of Aleppo”, awarded the Aspen Words Literary Prize, in 2020. About her parents’ exile experience, Lefteri says “Even though I know the pain that my parents went through, somehow in my mind it’s still confined to a different time. I think sometimes we get so accustomed to thinking that danger exists elsewhere, that other people are going to suffer”. (‘The Beekeeper Of Aleppo’ Wins 2020 Aspen Words Literary Prize : NPR)
About the book
“The Beekeeper of Aleppo” was born inspired by the stories collected by the writer from the refugees she came in contact with, in Athens, while volunteering at the UNICEF refugee center. Equally, her own family’s experiences determined the author’s predilection for the theme of exile, a topic of a painful topicality.
Very short and sad history. The Syrian civil war began in 2011, starting as mass demonstrations as part of the wider 2011 Arab Spring protests (there was a a wave of anti-government demonstrations and revolutions in Arab countries). Syrian protesters are demanding political freedom and they are protesting against President Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorial system, dissatisfied with unemployment, corruption and human rights violations. To these demonstrations, the regime reacted with gunfire, arrests, bombings, using fighter jets and tanks. The war is still being waged by various internal factions that have international allies, turning Syria into an operating-theater with interests worldwide. According to official data, by 2015, the number of Syrian refugees had exceeded 4,000,000, and the response of Western countries to this exodus has generated and continues to generate great political and economic controversy.
Having as a plot the historical events mentioned above, we will join Nuri and his wife, Afra, in the terrible journey they intend to take between Aleppo – the Syrian city broken-down by war and which, for the two, it is “home” – and England, the country where Nuri’s cousin, Mustafa, manages to find refuge, along with the family that survived the massacre. The latter is, at the same time, Nuri’s mentor and business partner in the beekeeping business, the two’s passion for bees becoming a refuge which gives them the illusion of normalcy, because “the bees were an ideal society, a small paradise among chaos.”
The dramatic loss that Nuri and Afra endure does not hasten their escape, but, on the contrary, it ties Afra to the house in Aleppo with strong emotional roots that can only be cut-off by the imminence of Nuri’s assassination. Only in front of this potential tragedy, the two will leave behind the atrocities of the war (exposed in shocking descriptions to the reader) and will escape from Syria. Their escape is a struggle for life – a life they are not sure if they still want or if they are able to live.
Afra, the artist whose colorful and lively paintings were sold in the market in Aleppo, remains blind after a bombing, a fact which will bring to light the admirable devotion that Nuri is capable of, in order to take care of his wife. Sometimes, she will paint without seeing, but guided by the sense of touch, following with her fingers the contours left by pencils on paper.
The absolute random way in which she will color her drawings gives the writer the opportunity to create images of impressionistic origin, with strong visual effects.
In the refugee camps, Afra and Nuri will meet other refugees (each with their own drama) and will have to face a world of despair and decadence marked by crime, rape, prostitution, pedophilia, drugs etc.
Although a predictable character, Mahommed (the boy who will accompany the couple part of the way) has a sublime role, as well as the role of the wingless bee that Nuri takes care of. In an emotional moment and refering (not only) to the bee, the man will say: “I am amazed that she has survived in this little garden she has made into a home. I watch her resting among the flowers with her saucer of sugar water by her side; she has learnt to live without her wings.”
Will our characters learn to live without wings, too, or will they get lost in the labyrinth of the hell they are going through? Could they be able to start a new life or will the writer put the lid on Pandora’s box before the only good thing left on its bottom comes out?
Sit comfortably in an armchair and find out the answers yourself. A book is… Lust For Flying.
To the author:
Christy, after this one, my expectations from your next novel („Songbirds”) are tremendously high!
- “Inside the person you know, there is a person you do not know.” – Syrian saying
- “They communicated without words from the most primitive part of the soul. I remembered her laughing about this, saying that she felt like an animal, and how she realised that we are less human in our times of greatest love and greatest fear.”
- “Sometimes we create such powerful illusions, so that we do not get lost in the darkness.”
Read more book reviews by Raluca Neagu here.