Sometimes the best thing about book club is that it prompts us to read things that we might otherwise turn away from. There are parts of the world that are in crisis, and it can be hard to know how to help. One thing we can do is to bear witness to the stories of those who have had to flee, to try to understand what they have been through.
In this special episode for National Reading Group Day, we were joined by Anna Baillie-Karas of Australian podcast Books on the Go to read and discuss The Beekeeper of Aleppo, the bestselling novel by Christy Lefteri. It’s the story of Nuri and Afra, a devastated couple forced to flee their country in the hopes of reaching safety in the UK.
Nuri is a beekeeper and his wife, Afra, an artist. They live simply but happily in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo – until the unthinkable happens. When everything they love is destroyed by war and life becomes impossible they are forced to escape. A long and dangerous journey follows as they make their way across Europe. Not only have they lost their homes, they have lost parts of themselves. Will they ever feel whole again?
Having worked directly with refugees herself Lefteri tells their story with deftness and empathy, but did it make for a good discussion book? What did our mini-book-club of three make of it. Listen in to find out whether there was hope amid the heartbreak.
In our recommendations section at the end we come up with follow-on books we think your book club will love. In this episode we recommend:
- No Friend but the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani
- The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
- Disoriental by Negar Djavadi
- I Will Never See the World Again by Ahmet Altan
- What Is The What by Dave Eggers
In a podcast extra you can hear Anna and Kate catching up with their recent reading. Keep listening at the end for more on
- Cleanness by Garth Greenwell
- How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang
- The Nickel Boys and Zone One by Colson Whitehead
- Simon the Fiddler and The News of the World by Paulette Jiles
- Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
- Au Revoir, Tristesse by Viv Groskop
If you’d like to find ways that you can help refugees here in the UK, Christy Lefteri suggests the following organisations:
- Open Cultural Centre, an NGO and education project in northern Greece
- Faros (The Lighthouse), a Christian non-profit providing humanitarian care in Athens
- Salusbury World, a charity supporting refugees in the UK.
- The Buzz Project, a Yorkshire charity founded by the Syrian apiarist Professor Ryad Alsous
National Reading Group Day is organised by the Reading Agency
Christy Lefteri recently won the Aspen Words Literary Prize, a prestigious $35,000 awarded annually for ‘an influential work of fiction that illuminates a vital contemporary issue and demonstrates the transformative power of literature on thought and culture.’ Thanks to lockdown, and zoom, you can see her very sweet reaction to learning she has won the prize here. And on Lefteri’s own website you can read other moving stories of refugees.
Books on the Go is one of our very favourite podcasts, check out their shows here.