The “The Beekeeper of Aleppo” by Christy Leffteri tells the story of Nuri and Afra, a Syrian couple, who flee Aleppo after their young boy, Sami, is killed by a bomb explosion. Before the explosion, Afra refused to leave Aleppo because it was the home of her ancestors and a dynamic centre of Arabic culture and Islamic religion. Even after the war destroyed the city and their friends Mustafa and Dahab left, Afra refused to leave. When Sami was killed, Afra went blind. She could see no more. Only when the Islamic militia came to recruit Nuri to fight in the war did she agree to escape with him first to Turkey, then to Greece and finally to England.
Afra cannot see but she knows what Nuri is feeling. Nuri can see too much. He notices, Mohammed, a dark boy who joins them on their journey. Nuri has many conversations with him. But Afra knows that Nuri’s mind is not working properly. The boy is imaginary. Nuri and Afra make this long and arduous journey across Europe to reach England. However the novel really charts their journey from a loss and grief that has torn them apart to a deeper love that reunites them. Afra begins to paint again even before she can see.
Yet, the story is not a romance. The vicious cruelty and violence of the war in Syria has destroyed not only their young son, Sami, but also their city, livelihood and shared past. The one thing outside the marriage of Nuri and Afra that the war has not destroyed is Nuri’s friendship with Mustafa. He is the beekeeper who has already fled Aleppo with his wife after they lost their own child. Mustafa prepares a way for his friend Nuri to join him in England. They will become beekeepers again.
The most dramatic aspect of this novel is the secret journey to Istanbul in Turkey and then across the sea to an island off Greece. The couple eventually reach Athens where Nuri has to engage in clandestine work to earn enough to pay the smuggler who will arrange for them to reach England. The description of the people they meet on their journey, both the cruel ones and the kind ones, is realistic and credible. The novel highlights the hypocrisy of European refugee policy in that the only way that Nuri and Afra can claim asylum in the United Kingdom is to arrive there by illegal means and then destroy all trace of their journey. In order to claim asylum as a refugee, you must first become a criminal. However if your criminal activities are discovered, then your asylum claim will be rejected.