I knew this book was going to be beautiful and moving, and to be honest that’s the very thing that put me off for so long. I wanted my mind to be in the perfect place to appreciate it.
I’m so glad I waited.
Nuri is a beekeeper; his wife, Afra, an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo – until the unthinkable happens. When all they care for is destroyed by war, they are forced to escape. But what Afra has seen is so terrible she has gone blind, and so they must embark on a perilous journey through Turkey and Greece towards an uncertain future in Britain.
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 the bravest of souls. Above all – and perhaps this is the hardest thing they face – they must journey to find each other again.
I listened to this as an audiobook, and I firstly just have to say if you like listening to books in that format you need to do so for this book. It really enhanced my reading experience, and it was very compatible with the story itself. The narrative is told very much like someone is telling the story of Nuri and Afra’s journey (although it is 3rd person), so the audiobook just enhanced this.
The plot is very engaging, and it really maintains the suspense right until the end of the book. There is some time jumping which occasionally confused me, but that could be because I listened to it rather than read it. Even though it isn’t fast-paced, I was completely hooked from the offset, and just wanted to know how the story was going to unfold. There are definitely twists and turns, which makes the story feel very unique and yet realistic.
The characters are really complex, and Lefteri avoids writing any two dimensional characters. If you want a book where you really connect to the characters, this is the one for you. I think this is what makes the book so great, because you get the sense that these could be real people who are going through very real problems. Lefteri never shies away from a difficult topic, but rather handles them beautifully.
The best thing about this book though is just the beautiful descriptions that Lefteri gives. You can picture the scenes perfectly because they are crafted so eloquently throughout. Every setting is presented as having good and bad aspects, which really helps to create a sophisticated portrayal of the places she writes about.
If you don’t want to see any spoilers for this book, scroll to the bottom of the review to see my concluding thoughts and rating!
In-Depth Review (Spoilers!)
I love the way that the plot always keep you in suspense for what’s coming next by splitting their journey into stages. With each new place or country they reach, there’s another difficulty that brings doubt to their successful arrival in England. Not only does this make the book feel like a very realistic portrayal of the struggle to seek asylum across the world, it also makes for a very engaging read. Never did I feel bored or less invested, because I was constantly worried about what was going to happen next.
I also found it interesting to see the different types of places they had to stay in. Their house in Aleppo, the refugee camp, the safe house in the school and the second camp never felt repetitive, and it allowed Lefteri to show the flaws with each setting. If anyone was ever unsympathetic to refugees or needed reminding of the poor condition in camps, then this would be the book to give them.
I really loved how Nuri and Afra’s relationship was written, because it felt so real. They were never painted as ‘perfect despite hardship’ like a lot of books do; their relationship was flawed and complicated. I really felt for both of them, and the emotional investment that Lefteri invites with her characters is on another level. I really felt for both of them, especially during the flashbacks when you learn what happened to their son. Learning about Nuri’s PTSD and Afra’s trauma-induced blindness was heartbreaking, especially because you then have to watch all of the hurdles they face in their journey make it worse.
I really didn’t expect Mohammed to be a trauma-driven replacement for their son, so that was a really nice yet devastating twist in the story. I had to rewind my audiobook and re-listen to make sure I’d heard right, but it was the perfect way to bring the story to a close. After the emotional experience of reading the book, having a more uplifting ending was definitely a good choice, and infuses the book with an irresistible bittersweet feeling.
The tertiary characters were just as well-written as the main ones. The Moroccan man, the man with the ‘wings’ and Mustafa all had their individual characteristics and development despite not being central to the story, which really enhanced the book’s realism. Everyone in this story has some experienced some kind of tragedy, even the ‘villains’, adds to the beautiful complexity that Lefteri creates.
My only qualm with the book was at time it was hard to keep track of who all the characters were and where they fit in with the chronological journey from Aleppo to England. This might have been purely down to me listening to it rather than reading it, but at times I felt a bit lost in the story.
Overall, I would encourage everyone to read this book. It is very serious and emotional, but what Lefteri writes about is so important, especially in today’s world. Her writing is beautiful, and I can almost guarantee you will get absorbed by her rich plot and characters.
I’m giving The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri 4.5 stars.