I’ve used reading as an escape from the realities of the world over the last 18 months. And in the process, I’ve managed to rediscover a kinship with books that almost borders on the edge of an obsession now. Some semblance of this obsession always existed since the day I picked up, as a 9-year-old, Enid Blyton’s Five on a Treasure Island. I’ve come a long way since then, but those memories remain some of my happiest: lazy afternoons at Nana’s place with The Five Find-Outers, the additional pages that my school librarian had to attach to my handbook just to make entries of The Hardy Boys I’d checked out, the late fees that mum had to pay at Abbas – a very popular circulating library, the pirated books and magazines that I bought from the vendors at King’s Circle.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a fictional account of Nuri and Afra’s journey from their home in war-torn Syria to the UK. The story is narrated by Nuri, a former beekeeper, who struggles to accept the reality of the loss they experienced in Aleppo, forcing them to flee. Moving and tender, it throws into focus the plight and hardship of a people representing the biggest displacement event in the modern world.
Christy Lefteri manages to create powerful and poignant characters loosely based on real-life heroes, such as this bee professor from Damascus. The story itself is a product of the time she spent at a refugee center in Athens and is built around themes of love, loss and light. She writes without commoditizing suffering and pain, and in doing so, she provokes the reader to experience the tenderness and vulnerability between Nuri and Afra. Moments such as Nuri caressing Afra’s head, touching her chest before he falls asleep feel familiar.
It is a story that deserves to be read, not just because of the context in which it exists, but also because of the way in which its protagonists’ quest ends, in them finally finding each other. It has a rating of 4.2 on Goodreads.