The Beekeeper of Aleppo – Book Review

By: Christy Lefteri

“Where there are bees there are flowers, and wherever there are flowers there is new life and hope.”

My synopsis of the book:

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is centred around a Syrian family affected by the civil war that is spreading around them.  The first few chapters show the reader how ordinary life was in Syria before the war. Nuri and his cousin Mustafa owned and ran a bee farm where they made honey.  Nuri is the novel’s main character; he is married to a woman named Afra and has a son, Sami. There are many other important characters, like Mustafa, that play a role in shaping this story.  The reader travels with Nuri as he escapes Aleppo with his family and tries to reach England, where his cousin Mustafa lives.  Nuri travels across the Syrian border into Turkey, where he then begins his trek to the Mediterranean Sea to get to Greece. Once in Greece, his troubles only worsen as he tries to find ways to leave and continue to his final destination, England.  Christy Lefteri shows the reader the difficulties refugees face in their journey to safety and the personal struggles refugees carry as they leave their homes, friends and families.  Nuri and his family’s story of freedom are filled with heartache and sadness that will follow them for the rest of their lives. 

“Money gets you everywhere. This is what I always say. Without it, you live your entire life travelling trying to get to where you think you need to go.”

My review:

I’m finding it very difficult to write a review on this book because I don’t want to take away from the importance of the Syrian refugee crisis.  The Beekeeper of Aleppo gives a voice to the Syrian people who lost their homes to the civil war.  Unfortunately, I must admit, the book itself struggled to captivate me. 

In the beginning, it was difficult to follow along with the different periods presented in the chapters. I usually have no problem with books not written in chronological order, but this story did not flow from one period to another well. It eventually became much clearer but, the first impression of the book wasn’t great.

Also, I never found myself connecting with the main characters. There needed to be a bit more character development in the beginning to draw me into their story.  I found myself hoping I would become more attached to the characters as the chapters continued but, it never really happened. I was heartbroken when each horrible event happened to them but, mainly because I knew somewhere in this world, these events happened to real people. 

Although I found this book to be pretty average, I would still recommend it because of the importance of understanding the Syrian refugee crisis.

The most important message to get from this story is that Syria was a developed, established nation that was struck by a civil war that tore the entire country apart.  Unfortunately, because of the multiple middle eastern conflicts that we are accustomed to now, we assume that all of the middle east is continuously at war, this was not the case for Syria.  Syria had been living peacefully for many years.  This is what made the civil war even more difficult for Syrians.  Lefteri does a good job at making this message clear.

About the author:

Christy Lefteri has a close connection to the story.  She spent two summers volunteering at the refugee camps in Athens, getting to meet many Syrian families.  Writing this story was also important to her because she is also the daughter of Cypriot refugees. 


My COVID Lockdown Booklist

As a new year begins, the hopes of a new beginning away from COVID is slowly diminishing. In Switzerland, where I live, we enter into our 3rd week in lockdown, with three more weeks to go. One way I plan on passing the time is by reading some of the unopened books I still have on my shelf. I decided to make a list of all the books I want to read during this time. I’m hoping it will give me something to look forward to each week and help get me through this lockdown!

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by: Christy Lefteri

This book caught my attention because of its connection to current events, specifically the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe. Over the last couple of years, we have been watching heartbreaking scenes of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria for Europe. This book tries to put a face to this crisis by writing about a fictional Syrian family and their refugee story. The family decides to leave Syria after the war has already begun; they embark on a dangerous journey to freedom, trekking through many of the same escape routes Syrian families are all too familiar with. I’m sure this will be a very captivating story and shed light on the struggles refugees worldwide experience.

What Alice Forgot by: Liane Moriarty

Many friends and family have continuously recommended this book, so I have finally decided to add it to my list. This story is about the effects of memory loss and piecing together a life that is unrecognizable. It is slightly different from the type of books I usually read, but lockdown is a great time to explore some new genres!

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by: Heather Morris

This book has been on my book list for many years, but every time I think about opening it, I wonder if I am truly ready for the emotional roller coaster I know this book will embark on. However, recently I read another book by Heather Morris, called Cilka’s Journey, and I loved it. It was definitely emotionally tormenting but, I am very glad I read it. So I decided I needed to give The Tattooist of Auschwitz a read.

A Promised Land by: Barack Obama

I haven’t read a biography in a long time, and I find myself craving to read one. Since American politics has been a focal point in world news recently, I found it only fitting to add A Promised Land by Barack Obama to my book list. Whether you agree with his politics or not, you cannot argue his presidency’s historical significance and wonder how he got there.

What does your lockdown booklist look like?


Visiting Book Locations

I have read so many different books that are set in many different locations all over the world. I always wonder what these different places would look like in person. When I read historical fiction books, I think about how interesting it would be to go to the locations mentioned and see how they look today. Visiting these historical spots also gives you a deeper understanding of what occurred there. Below are some of the spots I have always wanted to visit from some of my favourite books.

A Long Petal of the Sea
Location- Catalonia, Spain
A Long Petal of the Sea is set in multiple locations, but the primary home of the books’ characters were in Catalonia, Spain. Although the book doesn’t spend too much time talking about the beautiful landscape, it does offer enough to entice someone to visit this Spanish province. What attracts me to this spot even more is its deep history. Between the authors’ description of Catalonia’s beauty and the historical events that take place there, I realize I would love to one day visit Catalonia, Spain.

Pictures are from: Catalonia-Spain.jpg (1920×1080) (matzav.com); park-guell-barcelona-spain-DEALSPAIN0117.jpg (1600×1000) (travelandleisure.com)

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
Location- Kefalonia, Greece
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is set on the island of Kefalonia, Greece. It follows the villagers from World War II through to modern-day Greece. It gives vivid details to the island’s hilly mountains, the small towns within the island, and the beautiful views of the ocean. Although I haven’t read this book in a very long time, I still feel the urge to visit and follow in the footsteps of the characters.

Pictures are from: kefalonia-travel-guide.jpg (1800×1012) (goatsontheroad.com); Assos-Kefalonia.jpg (2715×1810) (greekboston.com)

My Life in France and The Nightingale
Location- French countryside
Both of these books feature more than one setting, but the French countryside stands out the most. The way Julia Child discusses her home in the French countryside would make anyone dream of visiting. In The Nightingale, you read about the experiences of a small French town outside of Paris during World War II. In both cases, I find myself hoping to one day be able to visit parts of the French countryside and think of these two books while I am there.

Pictures are from: 85 (970×647) (usnews.com)

Eleni
Location: Village of Lia, Northern Greece
This book has encompassed village life in Greece. Learning about the small village community, how they build their homes, grew their gardens and lived their lives makes one dream of the simpler life. I would love to visit this small village one day to picture how Eleni and her family lived there, to see how isolated this community is and to visualize the inhabitants daily life. An argument could be made that a visit to any one of the thousands of little Greek villages will also serve the same purpose, but Lia has an added importance because of the book.

*Pictures are not of the Village of Lia as there were too few options, they are other mountain villages in Greece
*These pictures are not my own, they belong to: 0fd86d76a1ccde9f11ceba809674dca6.jpg (1000×658) (pinimg.com), aaa-Kallarytes-ancient-Greek-village.jpg (785×589) (monkeysandmountains.com), 38f012798c13c714ed97d7f6404e251a.jpg (720×484) (pinimg.com)

What are some places you would like to visit from the books you have read?


Birds Without Wings – Book Review

By: Louis de Bernieres

This is the second time I have read this book. I chose to reread it because I had such fond memories of the book, and I wanted to include it on my blog. I thought it would be best to reread it in order to give it a proper review.

Why I initially read this book:

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I love historical fiction novels, and my background is Greek, and this book is about Greeks living in the Ottoman Empire during the early 1900s. Therefore, it suited my interests very well. My sister had also read it and loved it. I knew of Louis de Bernieres because of his famous novel, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, that was eventually turned into a Hollywood movie. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was also a great read; however, the film did not do the book justice. Therefore, since I liked the author, it had great reviews, and it fit into my interests, I thought I had to read it.

The theme of this novel:

I believe the overall theme of this book was innocence. The innocence of a small village town in eastern Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), the innocence of regular people disconnected from the world’s politics, and lastly the innocence of children. The book is mostly set in a small village that, for hundreds of years, Christians and Muslims lived in harmony; where Greeks, Armenians and Turks were like family to one another. In this village, Muslims would pray to the Virgin Mary and Christians would go into Mosque’s to pray. This is what this little town was like, and it represented so many towns in Greece and Turkey until war tore them apart, until political leaders told them they were each others enemy.

A brief overview of this book:

As mentioned above, this novel was mostly set in a small town in Western Anatolia called Eskibahce, near the end of the Ottoman Empire. It follows the lives of the Eskibahce villagers from the beginning of the 1900’s through to the Great War, then the War of Independence and the Great Population Exchange. The story begins showing how harmoniously everyone in the village lived with each other regardless of religion and cultural background. You are introduced to many different characters at the beginning, and you follow each of these characters as they weave through major historical events. Louis de Bernieres creates incredibly interesting characters that are intriguing from the moment they are introduced. Each character tells their story in their own chapters, including the real historical figure Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. You see how the changes made by leading men in the world affect this little towns’ inhabitants. You gain an understanding of how the repercussions of people’s actions seem to affect the most vulnerable in society.

“…but in my opinion, as I have also said, everything that happened was made to do so by the great world.”

About halfway through the book, de Bernieres focuses a lot of time discussing many of the Great War details, and I would say this is the only part in the book that I felt needed to be shortened. There were too many back-to-back chapters from Mustafa Kemal and one of the book’s main characters, Karatavuk explaining the details of the war from their perspectives. I think this part of the book may be difficult for some readers, who may not be as interested in history, to get through.

The end of the book focuses on the deportation of Greek Christians living in Turkey. The perspective is shown through the villagers of Eskibahce. The utter shock the Christian villagers face when they are told they are going to their country, Greece, which they have never lived in. The sadness that is bestowed on the Muslim villagers who tearfully say goodbye to their life long friends. You see the love these villagers had for one another when the Muslim men decide to follow their Greek friends to their destination to guarantee their safe passage to Greece (after horrifying stories of what was done to the Armenian people by the Turkish army). This is the love that is so rarely seen today between Christian and Muslims in most of the world.

What I learned from this book:

I learned so much from this book that I don’t even know where to begin. The book’s overall message that few men make the decisions that affect millions is what impacted me the most. How simple words and decisions could change the course of history. These same men turn best friends into enemies just by using simple words. Many times in the book, we see a Greek Christian and an Ottoman Muslim love one another (friendly or romantic) despite being told by world leaders that they are now enemies.

“How strange that the world should change because of words, and words change because of the world” (p 287)

I learned how quickly good human beings can turn evil. The atrocities that Greeks and Turks committed to one another after living among each other harmoniously for so many years is truly baffling. How does one hate another so much to commit such horrible crimes to innocent people? I will never understand that, but it is clear the humans are capable of awful things.

“Much of what was done was simply in revenge for identical atrocities…” (p 6)

Final thoughts on this book:

Overall this is a great book; I loved it the first time I read it, and I loved it the second time I read it. Louis de Bernieres writes so eloquently, including many important hidden messages. I truly recommend that everyone reads this book, even if you aren’t into historical fiction, there is so much that the world can learn from the small village of Eskibahce.


Eleni- Book Review

By: Nicholas Gage

Eleni, written by Nicholas Gage, begins in the 1930s in the small village of Lia in northern Greece. This story is an autobiography of Nicholas Gage’s mother, Eleni. The story begins just before World War II and continues to the end of the Greek Civil War. Gage takes the reader through the birth and development of communism in Greece. The story of communism in Greece is a sad one; it is fostered by the neighbouring communist nations and, in the end, results in the displacement and separation of thousands of Greek families. Throughout World War II, the village of Lia, the home of Nicholas Gage, is portrayed as a very traditional and conservative community. Nicholas is the youngest child of Eleni’s and the only boy. During this time, the complexities of village life are best shown through his portrayal of his sister’s childhood. He goes into detail about how young women lived in the village at this time and the importance of marrying your daughters to a good family. This, unfortunately, leads to the reason Eleni decides to stay in Greece during World War II rather than go to America to reunite the family with her husband Christos, the father of her children. This decision proves to be fatal.

Nicholas Gage details the difficulties of village life for the family before the war came to the village. He talks about the Nazi occupation in Lia and its effects on the community. However, his book’s primary focus is on the Greek Civil War, when Greece’s communists tried to take over governance. When the communists have taken over Lia, Nicholas and his family’s life becomes drastically more difficult. From the forced enrollment of his younger sisters to the communist military, then to his grandfather’s abandonment, to the children’s eventual escape from Lia, you see all the struggles this family endures. After the children find out about their mother’s death, they must follow in their mother’s wishes and continue their journey to American to be reunited with their father, which is precisely what they do.

Nicholas spends the rest of his life in America, visiting Greece from time to time. In his adult life, he decides to go back to Greece and learn what happened to his mother and bring her murders to justice. It is from these accounts he writes the story of what happened to his mother, Eleni. 

The story of Eleni is genuinely remarkable. Gage does a great job at detailing village life and showing the difficulties of war life in this small village. I found the most challenging part of this book is trying to understand how humans can turn on one another so quickly and so easily. How human beings can become so hateful and vengeful to innocent people is astonishing. This is a profound story of resilience, courage and love. Eleni was killed protecting her children, praying for a better life for them outside of Lia. Luckily, her hopes and dreams for her children did, in many ways, come true. They arrived in America and started their new lives. 

Eleni was made into a movie as well.