Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits
By Laila Lami
Read Nov 2021
The Beekeeper of Aleppo
By Christy Lefteri
Read Feb 2022
This reader is coupling together these two books in a single essay to allow her to compare and contrast them.
Both books deal with refugees fleeing dire situations who need to cross a body of water in a dangerous way—a rubber boat—and usually engage with smugglers to accomplish the goal of getting to their desired destination and stay there.
In Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, the north African refugees are primarily seeking a place where they can work, make a living, and send money home to family so they can join them. One of the refugees has gotten herself in trouble politically and is seeking refuge to avoid her enemies.
In The Beekeeper of Aleppo, the primary characters are fleeing Syria because the war has demolished their neighborhood. Also, Nuri has been warned that he will have to take up arms with the unit that holds their neighborhood or he will be killed. Other characters Nuri encounters are leaving various countries for various reasons.
With respect to structure, both books tell their stories in an asynchronous manner. Time and place of the setting change from section to section. Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits starts with the sea crossing, turns back to pre-crossing life, and then moves to post-crossing times. “Current” in The Beekeeper of Aleppo is while Nuri and his wife Afra’s stay at a “B and B” in London housing a number of refugees and while they work with a social worker to prepare for their asylum hearing. Sections jump back to various times in Nuri’s life with most emphasis on deciding to flee Syria and various stages of their journey to get to London.
The biggest differences between the books are choice of the primary character and point of view. In Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, there are four Moroccan characters, two men and two women. By choosing these four characters, the author explores the differing drivers for leaving Morocco. Of course, all are seeking a better life. The two men are seeking a place to find work that can support them and their families, preferably that utilize their university training. Their outcomes are very different but both come to an understanding of what’s important to them. One woman is fleeing an abusive husband. The other woman is fleeing due to an issue she created for herself in speaking against the current government. The author tells us what the particular character is saying, thinking, and feeling, and sometimes includes dialogue and characters that point out other issues. For example, the female student hopes that her friend’s father can use influence to get her a position, something he does for others and which he knows is an abuse of his power. The chapters are focused on individual characters with their primary connection being that they all cross the sea together.
In The Beekeeper of Aleppo, Nuri generally narrates the story although the author uses some recalled dialog and emails between Nuri and his cousin as well. While following Nuri and Afra on their perilous journey, there is much time spent with Nuri providing us his thoughts and feelings. This allows us to more deeply understand the trauma that cause both Nuri and his wife to suffer both physical (Afra’s blindness) and mental (Nuri’s less obvious PTSD) distress. Since Nuri is telling us the story vs an all-knowing narrator, the reader must rely on Nuri’s words to slowly reveal what they are really going through beyond the physical challenges of trying to escape from the devastation of Syria and we slowly understand that Nuri is suffering a breakdown while at awaiting his asylum hearing in the UK. Both are interesting books that provide the reader a glimpse into the plight of refugees. Given a choice of the two, this reader would promote The Beekeeper of Aleppo for its skill in using the narration of a single character to probe very deeply into the psyche of one refugee whose story is far too common