Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The Sunrise - by Victoria Hislop - thought provoking drama

From the publisher Headline via Netgalley:

In the summer of 1972, Famagusta in Cyprus is the most desirable resort in the Mediterranean, a city bathed in the glow of good fortune. An ambitious couple are about to open the island's most spectacular hotel, where Greek and Turkish Cypriots work in harmony. Two neighbouring families, the Georgious and the Özkans, are among many who moved to Famagusta to escape the years of unrest and ethnic violence elsewhere on the island. But beneath the city's façade of glamour and success, tension is building.

When a Greek coup plunges the island into chaos, Cyprus faces a disastrous conflict. Turkey invades to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority, and Famagusta is shelled. Forty thousand people seize their most precious possessions and flee from the advancing soldiers. In the deserted city, just two families remain. This is their story.

My thoughts ....

As soon as I heard about Victoria Hislop's new book being set in Cyprus, in the recent period history which divided the island, I wanted to read it, having several close friends who live in Cyprus and knowing the present day island well. I also adored the authors work The Island, set on the Cretan Island of Spinalonga, a setting I am also quite familiar with. 

I was thrilled to find her latest book available for review on Netgalley and almost as soon as I was provided with a copy I began reading it and was rapidly immersed into a world of holiday Cyprus at once endearingly familiar, almost every name in the book is the name of someone I know in Cyprus, yet unfamiliar being set a few years before I began to visit the island and located in luxury hotels aeons above the accommodation I am used to.

Much as present day Cyprus is an island of two parts, this is a book of 2 parts - before and after. Before is set in the halcyon days of the 1970s when Cyprus is growing like a pearl in an oyster, forming a jewel in the Mediterranean. Before the days of cheap package tours and bucket shops the city of Famagusta, with its golden beaches, chic city shops and the ultimate in luxury is a shrine to hedonism where the wealthy rub noses with the titled and brush shoulders with celebrities. 

The story centres around the ultimate luxury holiday hotel, the eponymous Sunrise and the families who are involved in its creation from the wealthy and ambitious owner Savvas and his glamorous, privileged wife Aphroditi, to the workers who run the nightclub and hair salon. Be prepared for some lengthy and detailed descriptions of the assembly of a luxurious and lavish grand hotel, at one point it became almost overwhelming, I felt I was drowning in the sumptuous wealth and sheer indulgence and the first third of the book settles you comfortably into a story of glamour and style similar to Tasmina Perry.

Which makes it all the more awful when trouble ignites and peoples lives are ripped back to the bare fabric of fighting for existence. The Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots who inhabit the island are the ones affected by the civil war which erupts, bringing destruction and violence to the lives of every inhabitant. They wait patiently for the Greek government to intervene and rescue them, instead the Turkish army arrive, intent not on peacekeeping but to conquer, and seize the island for themselves, razing much of it to the ground as they pass through. 

Thus begin the days of after, after the fighting, we are plunged into an almost post apocalyptic world of terror and destruction where people are torn from their homes, with no work, no food and very little hope they battle to carry on and we are constantly reminded that this wasn't centuries ago, this is within lifetimes memory of most of us or at least our parents, the horror plays out to a familiar soundtrack of Boney M and Abba and we are reminded that in so many parts of the world, similar events are playing out right now.

This gripping tale follows the lives of 3 families, the hotel owners, and 2 families with members employed in the hotel, one Greek Cypriot and one Turkish. We face the daily struggle to survive alongside them, searching the ruins for food and trying to maintain a semblance of normality whilst the world around us crumbles. Like many conflicts, this is as much about power and greed as wars often are and we learn to trust nobody and discover the lengths of betrayal and deceit some people will go to. What emerges is a powerful and deep story of family ties and friendship written with style and panache and obvious probing investigation by the author which pays homage to her journalistic background. It quite blew me away and I find I keep thinking about it after I've finished it.

Intensely readable, unique and very thought provoking, this is one summer read you won't forget in a hurry. Read it on the beach in your luxury hotel in Cyprus and you'll see the rest of your holiday in an entirely different light.

My thanks to Netgalley and the publishers Headline for providing my galley in advance of publication.

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