Tuesday, 9 June 2015

The Sunrise - Famagusta, then and now

I have always been an avid reader and yet apart one a couple of instances of writing something in return for a copy of a book, I've never felt the urge to comment on one before.

That is until I read 'The Sunrise', a novel by Victoria Hislop set in Famagusta, Cyprus and centered around the Turkish invasion of 1974.

'The Sunrise' tells the story of three families in Famagusta from the sunny days of 1972 when tourism brings riches to Cyprus, to 1974 when a Greek coup forces the island into chaos. Greek Cypriots flee in one direction, Turkish Cypriots flee in the other, and the Turkish army invades under the pretext to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority. The city of Famagusta empties as people run for their lives. 

The story is based around three families, the Papacostas, the Ozkans, and the Georgious. as the Turkish army advances the inhabitants of Famagusta flee the city in fear of their lives but the Ozkans and Georgious are left behind, hiding in their own homes and struggling to survive.  



I've read most of Victoria's other novels,  the first being 'The Island' which I absolutely loved, followed by 'The Return' and then 'The Thread'.  While I enjoyed 'The Return'  it didn't hold the same appeal as the other two, and that's just because I feel more connected to the Greek settings. So when I first heard about the release of this latest book, I couldn't wait to read it myself.   

I first read the novel several months ago, and recently reread it once more. 

I loved the book, looking at it as a novel I enjoyed every second but of course to me it is much more than any old 'beach read'.   I live in Cyprus, and my home overlooks the area in which this book is set, the fictional Sunrise hotel from which the novel takes it name, would, it real be visible from my balcony. I knew I was going to love the book before I even opened the cover. 

Starting 2 years before the invasion, the story starts with the opening of the Sunrise hotel, Famagusta's newest and most upmarket building. In the late 60's and early 70s Famagusta was known as the 'jewel of the Mediterranean'  and the rich and famous flocked to its white sand beaches.   The story takes us from the opening up to 1974, through the different lives - the business man refusing to believe the worst, the tourists blissfully unaware of the troubles simmering all around them, and the families caught in the middle. 

Famagusta / Varosha in 1972 (Image credit: Victoria Hislop
It was interesting to see a glimpse of the different lives, the tourist 'bubble' and how they know (and neither care) about the troubles simmering around them, the workers, and the Greek and Turkish Cypriots who live and work together, some distrusting of the others but many being friends. 


ghost town of Cyprus
Varosha today
I was quite emotional reading it in parts. In one part, it mentions how they try to escape the city, cars lining the streets, people walking, carrying all the essentials they can manage or in many cases just holding the hands of their loved ones so as not to lose them, many would have been taking the same road which I use to drive the boys to school each day.  How terrible must it have been to do that same route to never return to their homes. 

Now, of course the author has never been inside the abandoned city herself, and no-one knows for sure all the events and stories of that time.  Whether all the events in the book could have happened or not, I have no idea, but that is where the term 'based on real life events' comes in surely?

After reading I was interested to read others reviews, especially those who lived it, or knew those who did.  I was surprised at many of the reviews, and disappointed at some but what was interesting and pleasing  to note was that it seemed that many who knew about the situation were those who rated it the highest, there were many good reviews from Cypriots. 

I think it was a brave decision to write this book - it was never going to be universally liked as it is such an emotionally and politically charged setting, and not only set in such recent times but something that still continues today.

I guess many people n the UK don't know about the situation or history, and to them it's just another 'beach book'.  I certainly had no idea before looking into moving here, and that must be the same for many of the other readers. one said "Victoria tries to engage us with a wider political tragedy and the fact that members of the main families go missing but to be honest we never really care" ...... that may well be the difference right there - I really do care. 

Derelict hotels in the foreground, and  tourists sunbathing in the distance. 
Last week I stood on Famagusta beach again, as  I showed it to Aaron for the first time.  It's just an unreal place and so very sad. It is just surreal that you can stand on the beach next to tourists sunbathing and swimming one side,you can walk past derelict hotels and right up to the barbed wire where you are only a few feet away from the crumbling ruins of what were the some of the best hotels in the Mediterranean.

Image credit: Victoria Hislop


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