Book Review: The Beekeeper of Aleppo

This week I found myself writhing in pain and crying out—in my dentist’s chair. The infection was so deep under the tooth he couldn’t seem to get it anesthetized. I kept telling myself, “This nightmare will soon end; just hang on for a few more minutes…”

And then it was over. I went back to my comfortable home, took some pain pills, and started planning all the great things I was going to eat as soon as my jaw felt better.

But there are people in this world for whom the nightmare never seems to end. There is no comfortable home to return to. There are no pain pills for what they’ve lost. There are no happy plans for the future.

I’m talking about war refugees—and in this case, Syrian war refugees.

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the onset of civil war in Syria, causing what World Vision calls, “the world’s largest refugee and displacement crisis of our time.” Six million fled their homes for other areas of Syria, and nearly 6 million more fled the country. A few of the lucky ones made it to America, England, or other countries prepared to help them start a new life. Millions more are stuck in official refugee camps, or unofficial tent communities, or in villages overrun with refugees where there is insufficient infrastructure, much less employment opportunities, for them to even start again.

They are stuck between one life lost, and little hope for another to ever begin. For them, the nightmare has no end.

In her number one international bestseller The Beekeeper of Aleppo (2019), author Christy Lefteri introduces the world to one such Syrian refugee family. Nuri was a beekeeper. He lived a pleasant, peaceful life with his wife Afra and son Sami—until the day war came to Aleppo. A bomb killed his son and blinded his wife. His bees, his city, his entire world was destroyed. His only option to stay alive was to flee.

Nuri and Afra’s journey takes them through a war zone, refugee camps, and sneaking across borders with smugglers whom they’re never sure they can trust. Along the way, they encounter many colorful characters. Their efforts to leave Aleppo to escape suffering actually expose them to a myriad of other types of suffering that most of us cannot imagine. They thought they had lost everything in Aleppo—not true. They lost even more of themselves on the refugees’ journey to nowhere.

Christy Lefteri’s experience as a volunteer at a UNICEF refugee center introduced her to the true “homeless” of the earth. Their horror stories no doubt aided her in compiling this fictional account of one Syrian refugee family. Their tale is told in hauntingly beautiful prose.

Lest you fear that this book will depress you, I assure you that there are enough moments of beauty and humanity to give the reader pause, to wonder at the courage and endurance of these precious souls.

And perhaps, this book will give the reader fresh courage to approach the new foreign family that just moved into the neighborhood, or who are playing with their children at the park, and ask them how they’re settling into a new life. Because refugees don’t just need a new home and a new job—they need a new community where they are loved, where they belong.

That’s when their lives will really begin again.

Published by Jim Baton

Jim Baton (pen name) has spent over 25 years living in the Muslim world, where he’s been involved in a variety of peace and reconciliation activities including interfaith dialogue, training elementary through university students in peace principles, and bringing Christians and Muslims together to pray. Jim's writing, speaking and teaching is helping Christians and Muslims build bridges of understanding, love and prayer both in Muslim nations and at home in America. His novels contain a depth of understanding regarding the roots of the Christian and Muslim conflict, how to bring healing to Abraham’s broken family, how to combat terrorism with non-violence and love, and how to become a true peacemaker.

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