Another Double Book Review!: Beekeeper of Aleppo & Severance
2020 is kicking my behind. But a promise is a promise, and I am not in the habit of breaking promises. So, while they might be terribly, terribly late, here are the book reviews for our latest book club selections:
In May, we read The Beekeeper of Aleppo (Ballantine Books 2020) by Christy Lefteri.
It was excellent, but emotionally debilitating. Based on the author’s time volunteering with Syrian refugees, Lefteri’s debut work tells the story of a man and his wife as they flee their homeland, leaving behind everything they’ve ever known. The tale layers together scenes of their present day experiences in various refugee camps and halfway houses and flashbacks to their life in Aleppo before/during the beginning of the civil war. Now, like many, I consider myself relatively well-informed when it comes to the current state of the world: I read books, I watch the news. But this book really succeeds in smacking you in the face with the dire reality of modern violence. Nuri and his wife Afra experience an abundance of physical suffering: hunger, cold, near drowning, and assault. But it’s the emotional pain and grief that is almost too much for them to bear, and certainly does not make for easy reading.
Lefteri does manage to end their story on an up note, though, so readers are left feeling hopeful that while the protagonists have been forever changed by their immense hardships, they will find solace and healing in their new life. The writing is lyrical, with an often dream-like quality. You will definitely shed some tears, but you will be glad you read it.
In June, we read Severance by Ling Ma.
And let me tell you, that was a wild ride. Ma also makes use of a lot of flashback sequences to tell the (very timely) story of Candace, basically THE WORLD’S BEST EMPLOYEE EVER, as she struggles to survive a global pandemic. This book is a MUST-READ for fans of World War Z (the novel, not the film) for its realistic take on ‘the end of the world as we know it’ genre. Ma doesn’t rely on overwrought scenes of mass chaos or descriptions of gore to set off the reader’s alarm bells. She masterfully weaves tons of insidious little hints of devastation into Candace’s autobiographical narration; this novel is less about a cataclysmic event, and more about the absolutely mind-boggling ORDINARINESS of our self-destruction as a species. I was really struck by how Ma deftly manages to turn a ‘zombie apocalypse’ into some really big social commentary about consumerism, globalization, identity, memory, and office culture without coming across as heavy-handed. Throw in some complex parental and romantic relationships for good measure and…
In a lot of ways, Severance (which was originally published in 2018 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux) feels oddly prophetic. I highly, highly recommend this book, but just a warning, if you’re very stressed out about the current state of the world,… maybe hang on to this one for a bit.
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Stay well, and happy reading!