Another pick from Book Riot’s 2019 Read Harder Challenge! This time, the task was to read a translated book written and/or translated by a woman, and what was available at my libraries from the list was The Beekeeper: Rescuining the Stolen Women of Iraq by Dunya Mikhail. Don’t be fooled by this book: it’s a slim tome, coming in at just over 200 pages, but every page is a punch in the gut.
Iraqi-born poet and journalist Dunya Mikhail fled Iraq after facing increasing threats in the mid-90’s. The Beekeeper is a collection of first-person narratives of Yazidi women who were kidnapped by Daesh (also known as ISIS) and forced to become sex slaves for them. An unlikely hero emerges, a beekeeper named Abdullah Shrem. He can’t sit idly by and watch his neighbors, his fellow countrymen and women, continue to suffer, and so he begins an informal operation designed to retrieve these women by any means necessary. His cellphone always on hand, Abdullah is ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice in order to secure freedom those enslaved and tortured by Daesh.
This book needs ALL the content warnings. Rape and violence of every type abound, including mass killings, people being buried alive and being forced to dig their own graves, and parents being forced to watch their children slaughtered in front of them as punishment (there are pictures of the wrapped bodies of these dead children in the book). It’s as brutal as any book about the Holocaust or Rwandan genocide, so be aware of that if you’re not in a good place to read about the absolute worst kind of suffering that man can inflict upon their fellow human beings.
‘You won’t find a single family here who hasn’t had someone disappear,’ someone says near the beginning of the book, a remark that I found heartbreaking and infuriating. This is one of those books that deserves to be read simply because we need to be a witness to the suffering of the survivors and be aware that this has gone on and is still going on. Thousands of women remain in captivity; some have returned only to find their entire families have been slaughtered. Others haven’t returned at all. These are human rights violations of the highest order, and I feel it’s incredibly important to bear witness to their stories.
It feels like I’ve been reading a LOT of really heavy stuff lately. I’m about ready to go on a Christina Lauren binge just to get some happy, fun material in my life to break up the heaviness of human atrocities that have filled my reading list recently. I’ve got a few more library books and a few review books, and then I may just do that…