Upsetting Our Orderliness
This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR. The book is “The Beekeeper of Aleppo” by Christy Lefteri.
Most journey stories start in point A and go through all the other points, with some adventure at each point, until we get to point Z. “The Beekeeper of Aleppo” is all over the route. And not as a flashback. Just scenes from each location, not in order, building to an overall sense through chaos of circumstance.
One moment you are in Aleppo before the Civil War and then in the UK in a B&B then in Athens then in a boat and maybe back to Aleppo. All without warning. It can be a bit disorienting. Hard to keep track of where you are in the book. If you don’t pay attention, if you skim, you will be missing big holes in the story.
But then, this is not intended as a start here, go there, journal.
I think that is Christy Lefteri’s method for getting us inside the head of our main characters, in particular Nuri. This is confusing, fearful and disorienting for him and for his wife Afra. Their small child was killed in the Syrian civil war, and they need to flee or be killed themselves. Afra, blinded when their child was killed tries to remain, in grief. They almost stayed too long and are now being hunted.
We also meet other kinds of refugees. In the UK B&B we meet Diamonde from the Ivory Coast who had been working in Gabon when things didn’t work out. He is conversing with a Moroccan man, in English, a language neither knows that well. Diamonde, who is bone skinny and frail, is told that Libya has opportunities. He paid 15,000 CFA (about $24.52) to drive eight days north in the desert across Africa to get there. Instead of opportunity, he was imprisoned and held for ransom, 200,000 CFA (Central African Francs).
One US dollar is worth about 611.785 CFA depending on market. So, 200,000 CFA == about $326.92. A ransom his family couldn’t pay or wouldn’t or did but were pumped for more.
Diamonde gets out of prison only after a rival militia broke into the prison and freed them. From there he walked to Tripoli to get a job but wasn’t paid. When he asked for his pay the employer threatens to kill him. So, Diamonde manages to escape.
There is also a wingless bee that Nuri finds in the garden of the B&B. He thinks the bee will not live long and that because it is wingless that it was cast out of the hive. Yet the wingless bee continues showing up. Each time Nuri lets her crawl into his hand and up his arm. Nuri then carefully places the bee in a spot she can live awhile on, such as on a flower. He too feels wingless.
Then there is Mohammed, who shows up and who disappears. Mohammed is the same age as the son who died. Who is Mohammed?
Lefteri employs an interesting device, but maybe a tad too clever. Many chapters are joined by using the chapter heading as the last word of the previous chapter and the first word of the current chapter, on back-to-back pages.
Which leads to chapter-end sentences which seem as if the printer made a mistake and truncated a sentence in mid stride.
Still, it does blend into the other disruption style of narrative Lefteri weaves together. Actually, this is only partially about narrative. “The Beekeeper of Aleppo” is designed to scatter our sense of orderliness.
This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Readers Book Club.