The Sunrise – Famagusta, Cyprus 1972 – Victoria Hislop

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Famagusta, Cyprus 1972

The Sunrise is the remarkable story of Famagusta.

History comes to life  – Famagusta was once the most desirable resort in the Mediterranean.  A couple are planning to open a luxury hotel such is the desire to enjoy the sun and good fortune that the island is enjoying. Greeks and Cypriots work and live in harmony and life is good.

However elsewhere on the island, life is not so good and in fact many of Famagusta’s  40 000 inhabitants  are those who have escaped the ethnic violence of elsewhere.

With tensions rising as well as the heat, a Greek coup destroys the peace and Turkey invades to protect its people. People are forced from their homes and their lives are in danger. Two families remain. Victoria Hislop tells their story.

Place and setting

The map as seen in the novel
The map as seen in the novel

In 1972 Famagusta in Cyprus was the place to be – it was a glitzy and glamourous place to be and with only around 40,000 inhabitants it seemed to be a unique and special place too.

Famagusta was golden. The beach, the bodies of sunbathers and the lives of those who lived there were gilded by warmth and good fortune.

Greek and Turkish Cypriots worked happily side by side, many of them in the tourist industry  – and in the novel in a new hotel called The Sunrise managed by ambitious Savvas Papacosta and his jewel-encrusted wife Aphroditi. The names sparkle with the chandeliers and clearly mark out the cultural differences -Emine Özhan is the hairdresser – The Özhan and Georgiou families reveal the personal divide against the backdrop of war.

Then in 1974 the Turks invaded and Famagusta was abandoned, surrounded by barbed-wired off and left to rot – where once the names sparkled with the chandeliers and clearly mark out the cultural differences -Emine Özhan is the hairdresser – The Özhan and Georgiou families reveal the personal divide against the backdrop of war.

scene

The war and destruction of a happy community which reached across the ultural divide  was heartbreaking to read – the families who fled, the attempts by others to hide jewellry and possessions in the hope of using them as security later was sad to learn.

The ones who stayed in their home – and quite right why shouldn’t they? – had a very hard time indeed and when I read about what they had to resort to such as stealing food and barely surviving, I realised I had never been so involved in such a situation – a war torn community where I as the reader felt so much a part of that their struggle was my concern and worry.

Famagusta was alive with rumours with what was happening in the capital city, a place that was so close but had always seemed a world away.

The war for me however was not the full story by any means – the people who stand up to it and stay and fight their ground won my admiration. Particularly the two families who stay in Famagusta who by their cultural and ethnic background should also have been at war were not – instead they were trying to survive by using their natural friendship as the best weapon against the incoming intruders.

The days of sheltering in the nightclub had brought Aphroditi and Frau Bruchmeyer close. Although the atmosphere was far from normal in Famagusta, cafes still remained open, the two of them went out together to pass the time.

These are real people, people who have lived together for years and who share a sense of community and friendship – why should some political situation dictate who and what they should be for or against? Such is the ignorance of war and the strongest message for me of this novel. The people who experience a war are not those who start it, believe in it or even care for it. Victoria Hislop illustrates the sheer futility of the political and religious situation by showing us the human side – with very real and believable personalities. I felt anger, grief and admiration too for the people I shared time with in Famagusta via the pages of The Sunrise and have a new found respect for the country I feel I’ve now been to, where I’ve lived for a brief moment but most importantly for the people I’ve met – but who I will keep in my heart for a long time yet.

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2 thoughts on “The Sunrise – Famagusta, Cyprus 1972 – Victoria Hislop

  1. I enjoyed her first novel The Island but didn’t get on with The Thread at all and ended up giving it away without finishing. I didn’t like the way she had included her research – it was just too evident instead of being integrated with the fictional narrative. Seems like she might have avoided that here?

    1. Yes I think so. The research has clearly been done carefully but never in place of the plot instead it’s woven in carefully and really adds to the narrative strand. I really felt as if I had learnt a lot from reading this though and was actually part of the history that is illustrated here. Hope you enjoy the read! 🙂

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