Monday, 6 September 2021

What I'm reading: Looking for sanctuary


This reads like a “companion piece” to The Boy from Aleppo, which I reviewed at the beginning of this year. The Beekeeper is, if anything, even more heartbreaking.

Nuri Ibrahim is the beekeeper in war-torn Syria. His wife, Afra, a gifted artist, has been blinded in an explosion which killed their only son. Vandals have destroyed Nuri’s beehives. His partner has fled to England with his family and urges Nuri and Afra to join them. They have enough funds to pay people smugglers if they can reach a transit point. They flee by road to Turkey and then by boat to a Greek island. Nuri is haunted by a boy they meet – and lose – along the way, a boy the same age as their son. They also cross paths with other refugees from many lands, all desperate to reach a place of sanctuary.

Alternate chapters show them being “processed” for asylum on the UK south coast, so we know they will reach safety. Their treatment by those who process them is chaotic but humane.

Christy Lefteri worked with a refugee centre in Athens and has constructed this novel out of the stories of the people she met there. She writes with a vivid, simple clarity; “inside the person you know, there is a person you do not know.” There must be hundreds – thousands – of stories as harsh and as poignant as this, people who were born at the wrong time in the wrong place. The Beekeeper of Aleppo is as profoundly moving as Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns. 

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