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Summary and book reviews of The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

The Beekeeper of Aleppo

A Novel

by Christy Lefteri

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri X
The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2019, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2020, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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About this Book

Book Summary

This unforgettable novel puts human faces on the Syrian war with the immigrant story of a beekeeper, his wife, and the triumph of spirit when the world becomes unrecognizable.

Nuri is a beekeeper and Afra, his wife, is an artist. Mornings, Nuri rises early to hear the call to prayer before driving to his hives in the countryside. On weekends, Afra sells her colorful landscape paintings at the open-air market. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the hills of the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo—until the unthinkable happens. When all they love is destroyed by war, Nuri knows they have no choice except to leave their home. But escaping Syria will be no easy task: Afra has lost her sight, leaving Nuri to navigate her grief as well as a perilous journey through Turkey and Greece toward an uncertain future in Britain.

Nuri is sustained only by the knowledge that waiting for them is his cousin Mustafa, who has started an apiary in Yorkshire and is teaching fellow refugees the art of beekeeping. 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 even the bravest souls. Above all, they must make the difficult journey back to each other, a path once so familiar yet rendered foreign by the heartache of displacement.

Moving, intimate, and beautifully written, The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a book for our times: a novel that at once reminds us that the most peaceful and ordinary lives can be utterly upended in unimaginable ways and brings a journey in faraway lands close to home, never to be forgotten.

1

I am scared of my wife's eyes. She can't see out and no one can see in. Look, they are like stones, gray stones, sea stones. Look at her. Look how she is sitting on the edge of the bed, her nightgown on the floor, rolling Mohammed's marble around in her fingers and waiting for me to dress her. I am taking my time putting on my shirt and trousers, because I am so tired of dressing her. Look at the folds of her stomach, the color of desert honey, darker in the creases, and the fine, fine silver lines on the skin of her breasts, and the tips of her fingers with the tiny cuts, where the ridges and valley patterns once were stained with blue or yellow or red paint. Her laughter was gold once, you would have seen as well as heard it. Look at her, because I think she is disappearing.

"I had a night of scattered dreams," she says. "They filled the room." Her eyes are fixed a little to the left of me. I feel sick.

"What does that mean?"

"They were broken. My dreams were everywhere. And I didn't...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What did you like most about this book? Were you most drawn to the characters, the writing, the emotional storyline, or learning about a different culture, for instance? Which character did you feel more emotionally connected to—Nuri or Afra—and why?
  2. What about this book surprised you? Did you learn anything about the Syrian refugee crisis that you hadn't previously read in news stories?
  3. Why do you think the author decided to have Nuri narrate the story instead of Afra? How would the book have been different if it was told from Afra's point of view?
  4. Each of the characters processes grief and trauma differently. Afra is literally blinded by her grief and Nuri can't seem to accept the reality of his situation. Why do you ...
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Here are some of the comments posted about The Beekeeper of Aleppo.
You can see the full discussion here.


After finishing the book, describe how you felt in one word.
Emotional. I think this is likely the most accurate because I was feeling so many different emotions at once. I also had a difficult time putting into words how I felt about this book and needed to sit with my thoughts for a day before I could ... - Brittany P.

Are there any other books on immigration that you'd recommend? Are there authors whose writing style you find similar to Lefteri's?
America For Beginners by Leah Franqui - djcminor

At the end of the book, Afra says to Nuri, "You think it's me who can't see." What do you think she means by that? Do you agree?
Afra is blind - she cannot see people's faces, the color of the sky or the path she walks on. But Afra can see what has happened to her child and what they must face in the future and how the war has affected Nuri. Nuri can see everything around ... - carolf

Do you think Mustafa influences the decisions Nuri makes throughout his life, and if so, how? Why do you think Nuri doesn't contact Mustafa as soon as he arrives in England?
Mustafa introduced Nuri to his true passion. Without running into Mustafa randomly one day, they may never have connected with one another. Mustafa represented potential and the discovery of new dreams. The two worked closely together in Syria, ... - acstrine

Each of the characters processes grief and trauma differently. Why do you think that is? What role, if any, do you think gender plays?
Everyone processes grief differently but like scribbling scribe said the ability for one to express it might be inhibited by one's culture and expectations within that culture. I think gender can play a role in some cases. Like in the case of the mom... - momo

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

A great starting point for those interested in learning about the worldwide refugee crisis; it’s an exceptionally well-written novel, if heartbreaking. Book groups in particular will find many points to fuel discussion, especially about the current challenges faced by those seeking to escape violent and war-torn countries...continued

Full Review (683 words).

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(Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Media Reviews

New York Journal of Books
The skill of the novel is that it is able to record the details of their journey like a diary. One is never bored. Each movement of the personae dramatis is telling. One is simply absorbed by the details of their escape from Syria. The author, a young British woman, the daughter of refugees from Cyprus, who has worked as a volunteer at a UNICEF-supported refugee center in Athens, has mastered the knack of telling a good story of the unexpected. This is her second good novel. We wait for more from this talented author.

Time
Lefteri’s slow-building narrative rarely veers into sentimentality or overwhelming bleakness. Nuri’s love of beekeeping and Afra’s gift for art, interspersed with happier recollections of Syria, offer a glimpse of the beauty still within their reach. By creating characters with such rich, complex inner lives, Lefteri shows that in order to stretch compassion to millions of people, it helps to begin with one.

The Guardian
In the same school as The Tattooist of Auschwitz and The Kite Runner, it’s impossible not to be moved by Lefteri’s plea for humanity, and perhaps inspired, too.

Library Journal
As Lefteri particularizes the terrible plight of refugees today, there's no overloading the deck with drama; this story tells itself, absorbingly and heartrendingly. Highly recommended.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A well-crafted structure and a troubled but engaging narrator power this moving story of Syrian refugees.

Publishers Weekly
Readers will find this deeply affecting for both its psychological intensity and emotional acuity.

The Hindu
Only someone like Christy Lefteri, herself the daughter of refugees who had helped the likes of Afra and Nuri, could have written such a book. That someone so young could have conjured such a mature and moving work is astonishing, leaving me like the Mole in The Wind in the Willows, “bewitched, entranced, fascinated.”

Author Blurb Heather Morris, author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz
Courageous and provocative, The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a beautifully crafted novel of international significance that has the capacity to have us open our eyes and see.

Author Blurb Esther Freud, author of Mr. Mac and Me
This book dips below the deafening headlines, and tells a true story with subtlety and power.

Author Blurb Daljit Nagra, author of British Museum
This compelling tale had me gripped with its compassion, its sensual style, and its onward and lively urge for resolution.

Author Blurb Benjamin Zephaniah, author of Refugee Boy
This novel speaks to so much that is happening in the world today. It's intelligent, thoughtful, and relevant, but very importantly it is accessible. I'm recommending this book to everyone I care about.

Reader Reviews

Tired Bookreader

Why a war?
This book will haunt me for years. Every time a 'conflict' is on the news, the discussion only involves the soldiers. But what about the people who aren't involved in the fighting? The ones who were just living their life and now can't? The ones ...   Read More

CarolT

Thought-provoking
A little hard to get into, but once in it, I found it hard to put down. I also want to know what it next, always the sign of a good book.

Betty Taylor

Compassionate Accounting of Refugee Trek
This is perhaps the most poignant book I have read thus far this year. Yet the book is filled with beauty and love. Nuri is a beekeeper in Aleppo, Syria. His wife Afra is an artist. Amidst the Syrian Civil War Afra was left blind when she ...   Read More

Victoria

A moving tale of the travails of immigration
Thank you so much to Random House Ballantine and Netgalley for the advance reader copy of this book. Wow. What a novel. It’s definitely given me a book hangover because I know the next thing I pick up will not compare. I have read a number of refugee...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Bees and Honey Across the Ages

Honey in a Bulgarian MarketIn Christy Lefteri's novel, The Beekeeper of Aleppo, the protagonist is a Syrian refugee seeking asylum in England (See Syrian Refugees and The Human Cost of War in Post 9/11 Conflicts). The novel brings to life the heart-wrenching challenges refugees endure as they flee their home country for a better life (See The Dehumanization of Refugees in Europe), but it also vividly sketches the protagonist's past life as a beekeeper in pre-war Syria.

Since antiquity, humans have had a unique relationship to bees and the honey they have been making for millions of years. The earliest fossil record of bees dates to about 100 million years ago, determined from remains found in a mine in northern Burma in 2006. At the time, bees and wasps were just ...

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