Tucked away in the southeastern nook of the Mediterranean, Cyprus, the island where my father was born, is an unassuming nation in today’s rapid world.
Her hotels boast quasi-full occupancy, her cities stumble through sporadic bursts of foreign investment, while her swollen villages do their best to preserve some sense of solitude in what is now an all too familiar set-up of a twenty first century tourist-driven economy.
But beneath Cyprus’s camouflage, if you dig but a few inches deep, there is untold trauma in her soils. It lingers in her lemon trees and haunts her horizon with every sunset. And should her people ever push this anguish to the lower echelons of their consciousness, every year, on the twentieth day of July, the invasion sirens call and each Cypriot returns to that day of violence. The day her waters turned to blood.
When I heard, four years ago, that Victoria Hislop was publishing a novel based on the fateful events of the invasion of Cyprus, in the year of the tragedy’s fortieth anniversary, I had my doubts. Given my personal connection to the island and the fact that my father had been made a refugee as a result of what took place in 1974, I was initially hostile to the idea of a non-Cypriot putting pen to paper on an event I felt belonged to my community alone.
This may sound short-sighted – admittedly, it was. But can you blame me? The events in Hislop’s plot are so polemic, Cyprus remains divided to this day. A quarter of a million Cypriots were displaced, with at least six thousand Greek-Cypriots killed and a further thousand ‘missing’ as of 2015. As with many wars of the twentieth century, huge question marks have failed to be answered over the CIA’s possible involvement in an attempt to further the USA’s political agenda. Add to this concoction a stream of propaganda, failed treaties and an illegally occupying force and you have the current Cyprus problem.
To write a novel on all this? One would think it impossible.
Yet in The Sunrise, remarkably, the intricacies of modern-day politics become almost irrelevant to the plot of its protagonists. The novel does not seek to highlight the aforementioned divisions but rather recall a lost unity, as the reader is reminded of the once amicable relationship held between the island’s principal ethnic groups. Through the tale of two families, the Georgious and the Özkans, Cypriot readers are struck by the clichéd reality that, once upon a time, Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots regarded one another as brothers and not the enemy. Though this may sound too simplistic to be mentionable for most, for a community that remains so broken to this day, to read a book that reminds us of this, I can assure you, is beyond moving.
Hislop stays true to Cypriot culture in the novel, avoiding both tempting hyperboles and an intrusive narrator. The attention to detail in her scenic descriptions that embellish her catalogue of Greek fiction once again shines through in this daring plot.
Of course, it is easy for me to sell this to a Cypriot. If not for its relevance, then for the way it resonates with our patriotic pride and overflowing emotion. But to a British student?
There are, in fact, so many reasons that, in this day and age, young readers need stories like The Sunrise more than ever before. Will it open their eyes to an underexposed culture? Yes. Will it remind them of their fortune compared to others? Undoubtedly. Will it jerk a tear amid the shallow cycle of clubbing, sex and booze? I’d put money on it.
But above all this, what message does The Sunrise give to any young reader, of any background, in today’s divided society? To love.
Go on – be brave. Leave your pursuit of cheap highs for one moment and enter the world outside your window.