The triumph of this beautifully-written story lies in the way Christy Lefteri humanises the overwhelming horror of life in Syria during its long, long civil war. We’ve become de-sensitised by endless ‘shock’ headlines, jerky news TV footage of gun battles, repetitive pictures of bombed-out houses and people fleeing from poison gas attacks. The ruined town of Aleppo has become synonymous with death and destruction.
Watching from a distance the sheer hopelessness of life in what was once one of the cradles of civilisation inevitably has a numbing effect.
It’s easy to forget that Syria is not a faraway place, the home of people of whom we know little or nothing; it’s our next-door neighbour, sitting right at the gates of Europe. These are our cultural cousins; our relatives. Nuri and his wife Afra, desperate to escape the horror, could be you or me – and Christy Lefteri’s gripping story shows just how fragile paper-thin the wall separating civilisation from chaos is.
Nori is a beekeeper and his wife Afra an artist. A gentle, intelligent, civilised couple; happy in their Aleppo home and living a comfortable, middle-class existence; the sort of people you’d recognise shopping at your local Waitrose.
But this is Syria, where the unthinkable has become the everyday. With astonishing speed and brutality, civil war overwhelms Aleppo and Nori and Afra lose everything (including Afra’s sight, after a bombing). Before this dreadful blow, the couple witness indescribable horrors. Yet Christy Lefteri DOES describe them, in all their awful, chilling detail. Be warned.
In desperation they set out overland through Syria, Turkey and Greece to seek refuge in Britain, where Nuri’s cousin Mustafa runs an apiary in Yorkshire. Their heart-stopping journey, both literal and spiritual, will grip and inspire you. A tremendous book.