Hardly a day goes by without some item on the news about the plight of refugees. We see graphic images of tragic drownings and hear of displaced people living in crowded camps and their overwhelming desperation to escape war ravaged countries.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a powerful and moving story about one man and his journey, from what was his home in Syria to a new life in the UK. Nuri lives in Aleppo with his wife Afra and his son Sami. He works as a beekeeper with his friend Mustafa. They have built up a profitable business, until one day it is destroyed by vandals in a horrific fire. Aleppo is no longer a safe place to live. Mustafa leaves, after losing his own son to the violence, and he begs his friend to follow. Afra does not want to leave her home city, and even after the terrible death of their own young son Suri she is reluctant to go. She is blind, the cause of which becomes evident as the story develops. Eventually the couple are forced to leave when Nuri is threatened with death unless he agrees to pick up a gun and fight.
With assistance they escape over the river to Turkey, where they begin their treacherous journey to be reunited with Mustafa, who has made it to the UK. They end up in refugee camps along the way, and only by having some money are they able to pay their way to their final destination, where they can claim refugee status.
We first meet Nuri in a boarding house a seaside town in England. He and Afra are waiting to be granted asylum and they have to tell their story to the authorities. The alternating chapters move between the frustrating uncertainty of coping with a life in limbo in England, and the memories of their journey to get there.
It is a wonderful story and very well written. It puts a human face to the whole migrant issue, which often feels very distant to us here in New Zealand. These are people just like us, with cell phones and email addresses, careers and children. Even if they make it to their new country, there are still hurdles to climb over. They not only have to discover a new culture, but they also have to rediscover themselves as well. A wonderful read.
Reviewer: Rachel White
Allen & Unwin, RRP $32.99