The Beekeeper of Aleppo is easily one of the most important books I’ve read this year, following the story of beekeeper Nuri and his wife Afra leaving Syria on a journey to seek refuge in the UK. I tend to avoid books that make me uncomfortable, and this book certainly did that, but it’s the kind of discomfort which is absolutely necessary to open our eyes to the things happening in the world around us.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a heartbreaking story of survival and hope against the backdrop of war, full of beautiful world building and powerful language. I chose to read this one quite slowly in small chunks in order to fully digest each stage of Nuri’s journey and understand the depth of the atrocities he was witnessing and experiencing. These were often very vividly described and left me with a disturbed feeling, but I have a feeling they only scratch the surface of the experiences that asylum seekers here in the UK have been through in order to find safety.
Aside from the awful things Nuri and Afra suffer on their journey, I was struck by the view of the UK being a goldmine to refugees, with Nuri often being told to try to make it to somewhere ‘easier’ or ‘less expensive’ like France. He was regularly laughed at for saying he wanted to reach England, and upon actually reaching the ‘safety’ of the UK he was treated with very little kindness.
Nuri’s interview process for asylum made me very uncomfortable and felt extremely hostile, almost as though Nuri was being treated as a criminal of some sort. This episode really stood out to me and made me so frustrated that after the most awful journey Nuri still couldn’t find peace and very sparing amounts of kindness in the place that was supposed to provide safety and refuge.
I absolutely loved the structure of the book and how it jumped between their journey out of Syria and the B&B in England. I also thought the use of a single illustrated word to link the flashbacks to real time (this will make more sense once you’ve started reading the book) was extremely clever. The bees were used as a grounding device for Nuri and also allowed us an insight into the only part of him that remained untouched and pure after his awful journey. I also thought the Afra and Nuri’s different coping mechanisms for dealing with what had happened to them were extremely interesting and utterly heartbreaking.
I had been putting off The Beekeeper of Aleppo for a little while as I knew it would be a bit of a soul destroying read, but now that I’ve read it I feel sad I was avoiding it. Despite all the horror in the story this really is a tale of hope, the one recurring theme that no amount of tragedy manages to break within Nuri and Afra as long as they have each other. In my opinion, this is an absolute must-read.