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Different views of Cyprus

Posted by on March 28, 2014

A Watermelon, a Fish and a Bible, by Christy Lefteri

A Watermelon, a Fish and a Bible, by Christy Lefteri

There is a small black and white photograph of my grandfather, Arthur Slaughter, sitting on a sunny verandah. On the back it simply says ‘Self, Cyprus 1916′. That is all I know of his stay there. It must have been taken some months after he was evacuated from Gallipoli in July 1915. He suffered from neurasthenia after the campaign, and perhaps he was sent from Egypt[where he was based] to recuperate.
I had never visited Cyprus until recently when we went for a week’s holiday. Up in the cool of the Troodos Mountains was where the British Colonial Government officials liked to retreat in the hot summer months, and vestiges of their villas and public buildings can still be seen among the pine woods on the southern slopes. These include red-brick villas with green doors and shutters, and corrugated iron roofs, and a splendid one storey building at Plana Pedi, formerly a gym and now a local hospital. All of these would look at home in Haslemere or Hindhead.
While in Cyprus I read two books about the island’s more recent history. The first is “Bitter Lemons of Cyprus’ by Lawrence Durrell
[Faber,1957].In this book, Durrell recounts the time he lived and worked in Cyprus in the mid 50s, before independence and at the beginning of the EOKA terrorist campaign.It is much more than a memoir. The details of the landscape he came to love, and the characters of the local people he knew so well and the many he became friends with, all vividly recreate the atmosphere of the time he spent there, rebuilding an old village house where he settled.His knowledge of the Greek language and culture meant he could see both sides of the political divide that ultimately led to the violent and disastrous end to the ca. 80 years of British rule on the island. It is a stimulating and thought-provoking read for anyone interested in this period in the history of Cyprus, written with humour and the sympathetic eye of an author who writes ‘as an artist and poet’ [according to Kingsley Martin in the New Statesman.]
Much of what happened subsequently was presaged by Durrell. During the 60s violence between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots erupted as political problems between the ethnic groups deepened. In July 1974 the President was overthrown by a coup carried out by the Cypriot National Guard, and Turkey invaded Cyprus on July 20th. During the offensive Turkey took over nearly 40 per cent of the island. 200,000 Greeks fled the northern part which was under occupation. The invasion is the background for the second book I have chosen to discuss – ‘A Watermelon, a Fish and a Bible’ by Christy Lefteri [ Quercus, 2010]. This novel is based on her own family history – her Greek-Cypriot parents moved to London in 1974 during the invasion.Other characters and events in the book are based on accounts by other members of her family and friends. Set in Kyrenia, the area familiar to Durrell, the book recreates the violent events of the invasion and the devastating effect on the local Greek communities,focussing on the women and children, and the long-term impact on their lives. It also highlights the complicated relationships between individual members of the Turkish/Greek and British communities, where friendships [and even romance] were possible , though always under pressure from the different social and ethnic groups.
Both books give an insight into the troubled history of this beautiful island during the last 100 years or so, since that photo of my grandfather was taken.

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