THE PLOT: Nuri is a successful beekeeper in Aleppo. He runs a large business creating and exporting honey with his cousin Mustapha. When war breaks out Nuri’s wants to leave Syria but his wife, Afra, refuses to go. As the security situation worsens, Mustapha sneaks out of Aleppo and makes it to England, encouraging Nuri and Afra to reach him. Only when a bomb blinds Afra do the couple realise that they have no choice but to take the perilous journey through Turkey and Greece in the hopes of reaching Britain.
RATING: A tragic story about the refugee crisis, The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a solid novel. Due to the hype around this best-selling book, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations but I still enjoyed the atmospheric storytelling.
GOOD BITS: My favourite aspect was the novels’ depiction of poor mental health and trauma. The portrayal of Nuri’s frustration with his wife, who he has to take care of due to her sight impairment, and difficulties processing his grief were very realistic. The novel is as much about the asylum process and impact of the journey, as it is about the journey itself. This highlighted a new dimension to their plight as the overriding message was that the trauma doesn’t end when the harrowing journey does.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: I usually love a flashback or jump through time but I found the switch from present to past tense a bit jolting. The novel begins with Nuri and Afra in England, so I felt this reduced the impact of some of the sadder moments and the tension in the story. Despite having many emotional moments, I didn’t cry during the novel as I knew that Nuri and Afra were relatively rich refugees, which made their journey easier, and I knew they would make it to the UK.
OVERALL: Refugee rights and protection is a cause close to my heart. The best dramatic representation I’ve seen about this topic is the play The Jungle, which was in London’s west end a few years ago. Perhaps due to the impact of that play, or other books I’ve read, this novel didn’t hit me that hard. However, it’s a good choice if you’re interested in themes of mental health, grief and trauma. And, it’s important that these stories keep getting told from as many angles as possible.