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The Beekeeper of Aleppo
Cover of The Beekeeper of Aleppo
The Beekeeper of Aleppo
A Novel
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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. "Courageous and...
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. "Courageous and...
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  • 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.
    "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."—Heather Morris, author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz
    NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY REAL SIMPLE
    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 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.
    Praise for The Beekeeper of Aleppo

    "This book dips below the deafening headlines, and tells a true story with subtlety and power."—Esther Freud, author of Mr. Mac and Me
    "This compelling tale had me gripped with its compassion, its sensual style, and its onward and lively urge for resolution."—Daljit Nagra, author of British Museum
    "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."—Benjamin Zephaniah, author of Refugee Boy

Excerpts-

  • From the book 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 know if I was awake or asleep. There were so many dreams, like bees in a room, like the room was full of bees. And I couldn't breathe. And I woke up and thought, please don't let me be hungry."

    I look at her face, confused. There is still no expression. I don't tell her that I dream only of murder now, always the same dream; it's only me and the man, and I'm holding the bat and my hand is bleeding; the others aren't there in the dream, and he is on the ground with the trees above him and he says something to me that I can't hear.

    "And I have pain," she says.

    "Where?"

    "Behind my eyes. Really sharp pain."

    I kneel down in front of her and look into her eyes. The blank emptiness in them terrifies me. I take my phone out of my pocket, shine the light of the flashlight into them. Her pupils dilate.

    "Do you see anything at all?" I say.

    "No."

    "Not even a shadow, a change of tone or color?"

    "Just black."

    I put the phone in my pocket and step away from her. She's been worse since we got here. It's like her soul is evaporating.

    "Can you take me to the doctor?" she says. "Because the pain is unbearable."

    "Of course," I say. "Soon."

    "When?"

    "As soon as we get the papers."

    I'm glad Afra can't see this place. She would like the seagulls though, the crazy way they fly. In Aleppo we were far from the sea. I'm sure she would like to see these birds and maybe even the coast, because she was raised by the sea. I am from eastern Aleppo, where the city meets the desert.

    When we got married and she came to live with me, Afra missed the sea so much that she started to paint water, wherever she found it. Throughout the arid plateau region of Syria there are oases and streams and rivers that empty into swamps and small lakes. Before we had Sami, we would follow the water, and she would paint it in oils. There is one painting of the Queiq I wish I could see again. She made the river look like a storm-water drain running through the city park. Afra had this way of seeing truth in landscapes. The measly river in the painting reminded me of a struggle to stay alive. Thirty or so kilometers south of Aleppo, the river gives up the struggle of the harsh Syrian steppe and evaporates into the marshes.

    I am scared of her eyes, but these damp walls, and the wires in the ceiling, and the billboards—I'm not sure how she would deal with all this, if she could see it. The billboard just outside says that there are too many of us, that this island will break under our weight. I'm glad she's blind. I know what that sounds like! If I could give her a key that opened a door into another...

About the Author-

  • Brought up in London, Christy Lefteri is the child of Cypriot refugees. She is a lecturer in creative writing at Brunel University. The Beekeeper of Aleppo was born out of her time working as a volunteer at a UNICEF-supported refugee center in Athens. She is the author of the novel A Watermelon, a Fish and a Bible.

Reviews-

  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 10, 2019
    Lefteri (A Watermelon, a Fish and a Bible) tells a haunting and resonant story of Syrian war refugees undertaking a treacherous journey to possible safety. In 2015, Nuri Ibrahim and his wife, Afra, who was blinded in an incident during the Syrian civil war, cling to their home while everyone else flees the bombings and violence. They are emotionally devastated by the loss and destruction of their neighborhood but decide to seek asylum in the U.K. after soldiers attempt to forcefully recruit Nuri. They travel through harsh conditions in Turkey and Greece, waiting in camps for the proper paperwork and meeting more refugees along the way. Nuri is determined to find his cousin Mustafa in the U.K., where the two men can return to their beloved work as beekeepers. Afra reckons with the reality that she will not be able to continue her life as an artist because of her blindness, and the couple recall painful memories as they are drawn into the agonizing experiences of other refugees. Lefteri perceptively and powerfully documents the horrors of the Syrian civil war and the suffering of innocent civilians. Readers will find this deeply affecting for both its psychological intensity and emotional acuity.

  • Kirkus

    July 1, 2019
    The human stories behind news images of Syrian war refugees emerge in a novel both touching and terrifying. Lefteri (A Watermelon, a Fish and a Bible, 2011) is the child of refugees, raised in London after her parents fled Cyprus in the 1970s. This novel's characters are fleeing a different war, the current, devastating civil war in Syria. Politics are barely mentioned in the book, though--when war has destroyed your home and livelihood, blinded your wife and killed your young son, the reasons for that war lose their meaning. The novel follows Nuri and Afra Ibrahim as they escape from Aleppo and make the perilous journey to Britain after their son, Sami, dies. Nuri narrates the book; its chapters alternate gracefully among the golden prewar past, the struggle to gain legal refugee status in England in the present, and the journey in between, a long nightmare of chaotically crowded refugee camps, life-threatening sea crossings, and smugglers eager to exploit them. In Aleppo, Afra was an artist; Nuri was the titular beekeeper, a job he loved, in business with his cousin and dearest friend, Mustafa. The war leaves Nuri and Afra no choice but to leave, but her blindness and emotional trauma mean that he must be her caretaker as well as grappling with the bewildering navigation to another country. Along the way, he also becomes the guardian of Mohammed, a lost boy about the same age as Sami. Lefteri says in her author's note that the book was inspired by her volunteer work in a refugee camp in Athens, and Nuri's story rings with authenticity, from the vast, impersonal cruelties of war to the tiny kindnesses that help people survive it. Nuri wants to be the strong one, but Lefteri subtly, slowly shows the reader how deep his wounds are as well. A well-crafted structure and a troubled but engaging narrator power this moving story of Syrian refugees.

    COPYRIGHT(2019) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    August 16, 2019

    DEBUT The London-raised daughter of Cypriot refugees, Lefteri was inspired to write this first novel after working at a UNICEF-supported refugee center in Athens. In fluid, forthright language, she brings us humbly closer to the refugee experience as beekeeper Nuri and his wife, an artist named Afra who has gone blind from the horrors she's witnessed, escape Aleppo and travel riskily through Turkey and Greece and on to the UK, where Nuri's cousin Mustafa has established an apiary and is training other refugees to tend bees. Afra doesn't want to leave the very soil where they have lost their son, but it's too dangerous to stay. "If they see me again, and I don't join them, they'll kill me. They said I should find someone to take my body," says Nuri persuasively. Along the way, they suffer violence and disillusionment, and if their new life is bittersweet, it brings them family, friends, and a glimmer of hope. VERDICT 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. [See Prepub Alert, 2/18/19.]--Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    July 1, 2019
    Afra's vision went dark the moment her son died. The bomb that struck their garden in Syria came after two days of relative peace. Following a harrowing journey that ended in Britain, Afra, now sightless, is staying in a bed-and-breakfast with her husband, Nuri, and other refugees awaiting their fates. In Aleppo, Nuri was a beekeeper with his cousin Mustafa, and the care and tenderness with which they nurtured their bee colonies could not be a greater contrast to the horror and destruction brought by the war. As Afra, once an artist, lost her vision, so Nuri seems to have lost something of himself after the death of their son and their harrowing journey via a smuggler's boat to try to find safety. Nuri's fluid narration merges past and present into a patchwork of memory, pain, loss, and hope, his encounters with other refugees solidifying the suffering of individuals into a larger story of the desolation of displacement. With determination laden in sorrow, Nuri and Afra strive to find their way to a new life and back to each other.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2019, American Library Association.)

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