The Cyprus Issue: literature and life

With the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989, Nicosia became the last divided city and so the national identity of Cyprus remains ambiguous. In turn, Cypriot literature is often overlooked; half-forgotten and largely ignored. The likes of JSTOR and SAULCAT yield few results if you generically search for ‘Cypriot literature’ yet ‘Spanish literature’ lets you delve into over a thousand books, journals and articles. Of course, this in part results from how one would define Cypriot literature – is it Greek or Turkish? Can two languages amount to one identity? After the war of 1974 and the division of north and south this became a problem which appears to have few direct solutions. Surely, then, it is intriguing to consider how literature articulates the complex relationships between the Island’s communities.

Sadie Jones’ debut novel The Outcast was a huge success, being shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction and winner of the Costa First Novel award in 2008. However, it is her follow-up novel Small Wars that sparked an interest in Cypriot literature. While her second novel once more examines themes of love, duty, shame and violence – the backdrop is no longer domestic but the military conflict in Cyprus. Another wonderful read, Jones adroitly exposes the social codes and duties of the army and family. Full of honesty, she addresses the timeless quandaries of war. I, however, still knew very little about the war in Cyprus itself: I had learnt about the American civil war at school; the French Revolution is touched upon by the Modern History department and School of English alike. Nonetheless, it took Sadie Jones’ fictional novel set in Cyprus for me to want to learn more than simply ‘I can either fly to the north of Cyprus on holiday, or the south side – which one is the Greek side?’. Until this novel, I was ignorant of a nation whose cultural society is intrinsically fragmented and fascinating. So, I aim to provide you with three authors who, for me, dispelled this state of obliviousness with their beautiful creations.

Niki Marangou, Yezoul

An award winning Cypriot writer, her 2010 novel, Yezeol, is the first translation of Cypriot literature I had ever read, and I was hooked. Translated by Irene Noel-Baker (who, incidentally, translates pretty much all of the Greek/Cypriot literary works I have come across), the novel focuses on half-remembered scraps of history such as Greek independence from Turkey, Cairo during the Second World War and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. Much like the divided county, the novel weaves the narrative together to display the disintegration of society, laying bare the process of writing as the author herself invites the reader along with her to learn about the own quasi-buried culture. Evocative and chilling, Yezoul will stay with you.

Nora Nadjarian, The Islander and Girl, Wolf, Bones

An American-Cypriot writer, her works tend to focus on the division in Cyprus and are also often written in English (helpful to those of us who aren’t fluent in Greek). Here, I have selected two of her pieces which I enjoyed most. The author herself claimed that to be inspired by Sylvia Plath and Pablo Neruda (insert clichéd teenage fan-girling right here), so any fans of those should really check Nadjarian out, for this certainly comes across. A mixture of poetry and prose, her works are exceptionally emotive: one really feels that her artistic talent is inherently entangled with her experiences and the background of her people – her writing is full of yearning, a sigh under the cover of night.

Emilios Solomou, The Diary of an Infidelity

Born in Nicosia in 1971, Solomou’s novel details the relationship between Yiorgos and the three women in his life as he retraces back twenty years to the sight of the excavation that made him famous. The Diary of an Infidelity is a novel about time, destruction, memory and love that balances the past and present; it is a novel which reflects the essence of a culture that has fallen apart, and is desperately trying to solidly identify itself as whole. Captivating, this book is wonderful introduction to Cypriot literature.

1 COMMENT

  1. Do you have any advice about where to find a copy of “Yezoul” in English translation? I’ve been searching online and in bookstores and haven’t been able to track down where to actually buy this book!

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