In September 2015, a horrifying picture appeared of the body of a little boy washed up on a Turkish beach.
3-year-old Alyan Kurdi drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, his family had fled Syria and were trying to reach Europe. That picture showed the world the human cost of the Syrian civil war.
There was outrage for a few weeks, the tragedy of Syria plastered on the front pages, it appeared the narrative and attitude towards refugees was changing, people wanted help, charities collected clothes, volunteers went to help in refugee camps, it seemed people had had their eyes opened to suffering of Syrians. It didn’t last.
Less than a year later the discourse had become depressingly familiar, there were headlines about ‘Britain being full’, the usual bile was being spouted, these people were likened to a plague of locusts. Dehumanised.
The reality of what they were facing forgotten. These people wanted safety, to be free of persecution. Think about it, how desperate do you need to be to leave everything you’ve ever known, give all your life savings to a smuggler who doesn’t care whether you live or die, to get in a tiny rubber boat with your family to try and make it to Europe? Luckily it isn’t something we will ever face.
There were and still are people helping. One of them was Christy Lefteri, she was a volunteer at UNICEF support centre in Athens, her experience led to her writing ‘The beekeeper of Aleppo’.
It’s the story of Nuri and his wife Afra, they have a happy life in Aleppo filled with friendship and love, as war breaks out that life is stripped away. When they lose everything they care about and love, they’re forced to escape. It’s the story of their journey to the UK, it’s also a story of love, pain, loss, grief and hope.
I devoured this book. It will stay with me for a long time.
It reminded me of stories I’ve covered and people I’ve interviewed, refugees I’ve met. The stories of desperation and hope. There’s still a war in Syria, we don’t hear as much about it these days, after nine years the conflict and suffering doesn’t make the headlines but it’s still there. That desperation still prevails, and we shouldn’t forget that.
The story itself, switches in each chapter from the present day in England, living in a BnB applying for asylum and the past, the life they enjoyed and what they faced to escape Aleppo. Lefteri depicts a couple at breaking point, both struggling to come to terms with what happened to them, withdrawing from each other, finding different ways to deal with their grief and trauma, alone.
As a reader I felt every mile of Nuri and Afra’s journey, I could feel the terror when they clambered on to a tiny boat to leave Turkey, was disturbed at the conditions of the camp in Athens and the danger that surrounded them and could see Nuri slowly withdrawing into himself.
‘Beekeeper’ puts human suffering at the heart of the Syrian civil war, it isn’t a history book, it doesn’t delve into the politics instead focussing on the innocent people caught in the middle, it gives a face to the suffering, it makes it easier to understand. It stops being about the huge numbers of those killed and displaced and reminds us that it is families and people affected. Nuri and Afra may be fictional but their story comes from a brutal reality of the author’s experiences and the interviews she’s carried out:
“The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a work of fiction. But Nuri and Afra developed in my heart and mind as a result of every step I took beside the children and families who made it to Greece. I have written a story as a way of revealing the way we are with the people we care about most in the world when we have suffered so much loss. The Beekeeper of Aleppo is about profound loss, but it also about love and finding light. This is what I saw and heard and felt on the streets and camps in Athens”. Christy Lefteri
And there is hope in this book, there are friendships built, there is hope for a different life and there’s love between husband and wife, family and friends. It’s a sobering read, sad, devastating but there are moments of light and it reminds us that sometimes, hope is all we need.
“In the midst of war, he found love
In the midst of darkness, he found courage
In the midst of tragedy, he found hope”
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm