The Beekeeper of Aleppo is the moving story of the journey of two spouses who experienced the war and were forced to flee Syria. This book illuminates the lives of civilians who had a formed life and a safe environment, coming face to face with war, death, and grief. The novel was written by Christy Lefteri, a contemporary British woman raised by refugees from Cyprus; hence, it can be inferred that the narrated story is in part a reflection of the author’s experiences with the plight of refugees. This essay conducts a literary analysis of The Beekeeper of Aleppo to identify the major themes as well as to identify the tools the author used to make the narrative more compelling.
One of the central themes throughout the novel is war or, more specifically, the manifestations that a civilian faces. Lefteri touches on an incredibly relevant issue for today’s geopolitical agenda, describing the flight of the two protagonists, Nuri and Afra, from Syria to the United Kingdom through a number of Middle Eastern countries. In discussing the implications of the civil war that has befallen the country, Lefteri turns to the use of a highly revealing metaphor. In particular, the author writes, “most of the hives had crumbled completely, but a few stood like skeletons… the colonies of grandmother, mother, and daughter… Three generations of bees. But they were all gone now” (Lefteri 18, para. 2). This quote metaphorically explains the war as a catastrophe faced not so much by colonies of bees as by real people — for this purpose, Lefteri humanizes the bees by giving them names the reader can understand, namely grandmothers, mothers, and daughters (Walsh 104). This quotation fully reveals all the tragic experiences that Syrians have had to endure because of the civil division within the country.
The novel also raises the theme of consciously wanting to remain in one’s home while experiencing the effects of the bombing. Nuri is forced to convince his wife, Afra, to flee with him to another country in order to survive; Afra refuses, realizing that she does not want to lose their home. This is a highly moving scene, as it reveals the mental dilemma of fleeing for salvation or wanting to stay in the home that Afra and Nuri created themselves (Lamiche and Belagraa 3). It should be added that, according to the author’s intention, Afra was utterly blind — this works as a rhetorical device that makes the reader understand that Afra is also blind to the deteriorating political situation in the country (Lefteri 23). In this sense, it is appropriate to quote some of the last lines with which the novel ends. Lefteri writes, “sometimes we create such powerful illusions so that we do not get lost in the darkness” (238, para. 4). The illusion of security, the preservation of one’s home, and the possibility of being saved did save Afra, but it did not favor their family. On the contrary, her husband had a vision, and this ability was broadcast as a precise analysis of the future that awaited them if they remained in Syria. Afra’s motivation not to flee reality for the sake of salvation could have been motivated by a sense of patriotism for her homeland and her home or by fear of the uncertainty that awaited the refugees ahead. In any case, in this scene, Lefteri succeeds in describing perfectly the problems faced by every individual who finds himself in the midst of war.
In their escapism, a married couple is forced to face obstacles that test their love for strength. Lefteri tells the reader not only about the war but also about the love that can be strong enough to overcome these obstacles. The lines describing Nuri’s thoughts are telling: “inside the person you know, there is a person you do not know” (Lefteri 20, para. 1). This Syriac proverb demonstrates the impossibility of absolutely knowing the personality and soul of the other person, even despite the length and strength of the relationship (Pitan). Nuri — no matter how much he loves Afra — can never fully know her; the opposite is also true. Through these lines, Lefteri informs the reader of the loneliness with which every individual in the world lives his life. Likewise, the reader’s idea of what the protagonists are like changes (Aniqua 12). The independent and determined Nuri finds himself in despair by the end of the narrative, while his wife, on the other hand, is gaining the strength to build her life in her new country. In this context, Afra’s blindness turns out to be her advantage, allowing the woman to be more thoroughly aware of the agenda, while Nuri’s vision fails the man and leads to decadence.
Another intriguing theme raised by the writer is human nature. The reference to the swarm of bees throughout the novel is not accidental: Lefteri creates a contrast between highly organized bees, acting as a single organism, and humans who commit immoral acts for personal motives. Lefteri shows the reader that humanity can never be as intelligent as bees when she writes, “people are not like bees. We do not work together, we have no real sense of a greater good” (Lefteri 68, para. 7). This quote is intended to demonstrate the failure of humans as a biosocial species; the reader should realize that humans will never be as organized and intelligent as seemingly unintelligent bees.
The couple’s entire journey is accompanied by a sense of hope for the quiet life they will one day find. Their fate has borne the brunt of the struggle against the phenomenon of war, and their escapism reflects one of the strategies of life in this struggle (Tegla 658). The quote from the very beginning of the novel, when Nuri reflects, “where there are bees there are flowers, and where there are flowers there is new life and hope,” is telling (Lefteri 26, para. 9). Once again, the quote observes how Lefteri uses the reference to bees to convey the idea of hope and faith (Walsh 104). Nuri and Afra, like hundreds of thousands of refugees around the world, retain the hope of a better life free of the war — just as anyone else, they certainly deserve that right.
In conclusion, The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a highly relevant novel about Syrian refugees facing the aftermath of civil war. It is difficult to unify the entire work and conclude with a single theme the author describes since Lefteri addresses a multitude of themes. One can find in the novel the horrors of war, illusory security, a test of the strength of love, a description of human nature, and finally, the hope for a peaceful life. Indeed, the novel raises many more themes, but those discussed in this essay prove to be the most revealing. Lefteri, in creating her novel, sought to inform the reader of a life that many will never encounter — the writer allows the experience of civil war and escapism to be lived in a literary language that everyone can understand.
Aniqua, Tasneem Habib. Designated Nomads. Brac University, 2020.
Lamiche, Yousra, and Samia Belagraa. Narratives of Homeland: Displacement and Homelessness in Christy Lefteri’s The Beekeeper Of Aleppo. University of M’sila, 2020.
Lefteri, Christy. The Beekeeper of Aleppo. Zafree, 2022.
Pitan, Lanu. “Inside Every Person You Know, There’s A Person You Don’t Know”. Medium, 2020.
Tegla, Emanuela. War, loss, and alienation: the beekeeper of Aleppo. Journal of Romanian Literary Studies, no.18, 2019.
Walsh, Joy. “Christy Lefteri The Beekeeper of Aleppo.” World Literature Today, vol. 94, no. 1, 2020, p. 104.