Book review: Schindler for Iraq

28th Jun 2019
Book review: Schindler for Iraq

The Beekeeper of Sinjar. By Dunya Mikhail Published by Serpent’s Tail. 2018. £10.99. Pp209. HB

The Beekeeper of Sinjar is a collection of biographical stories of Iraqis who fled their homes after ISIS [Daesh] forces colonised their areas; each one unique, each one horrendous, each one showing us the worse of humanity. It is like a literary version of the movie Schindlers List, a movie I recall in a grey tone, for it is devoid of anything hopeful. The beekeeper of Sinjar – Abdullah – is like Schindler.

His work now is to rescue Yazidi women who have been captured by ISIS in Iraq. The beekeeper’s rescue stories told in a series of telephone conversations are collated and narrated to us by Dunya. Abdullah, as an unlikely saviour, describes his role in beekeeping similes: “I cultivated a hive of transporters and smugglers from both sexes to save our queens, the ones Daeshis call sabaya, sex slaves. We worked like in a beehive, with extreme care and well-planned initiatives.”(p18)

It’s like a tale of thousand and one horrendous tales of capture rape, intertwined with tales of finding neighbours as your captors, of how sons are swayed by the killers of their fathers. Dunya tells Abdullah, “Scheherezade saved her life with the tales she told. You, on the contrary, may be putting your own life at risk because of these tales.” (p201)

There is the story of Zuhour who fled from her Daesh captor with her children and newborn after being bought on the slave market. She fled to a house of a seamstress, whose father was fighting for Daesh, and hid in her workshop. She kept Zuhour and her children safe.

How does one grapple with extreme depravity existing alongside extreme nobility? There is the story of Claudia who was kidnapped and captured — because of a cross tattooed on her wrist – after trying to go searching for her husband.

She leaves her children with her neighbour Umm Ahmad, an Arab Muslim. Claudia, like many others, was raped, abused and sold off – as part of two buses filled with women, to Saudi Arabia for service and some were used for their organs and body parts.

Her turning point came when Ahmad – her neighbour’s son- recognised her, and smuggled her back to her neighbourhood to be reunited with her children. What stood out in this tale was how the Umm Ahmad did not even know her son had joined Daesh. These families, Muslim and Christian had lived side by side for centuries and those bonds were broken by ISIS ideologies.

The depravity of humanity is at the forefront of this narrative. Even though many of these stories speak about saviours in unlikely places, it is overshadowed by the volume of pain and heartache. If you do find yourself reading this book, you might need a truckload of chocolate and every ounce of faith in the good of humanity after.

This morose read is necessary for it is easy to discard these stories that may not affect us directly. However, our ignorance and complacency to the plight of our fellow beings contribute to the tragedy, as the perpetrators have no significant opposition to their machinations, and this book seeks to remedy that. Make sure you read it.

Aasiya I Versi

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