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.
I’ve read and loved a couple of Victoria Hislop novels in the past, I love the way her writing style transports me back to the historical setting of the book. When I saw her new book focused on the conflict in Cyprus I was really interested in it – I know not a lot about this piece of modern history so what better way to get a bit more informed?
The book opens with a timeline of the events in Cyprus leading up to the 1972 setting of the book. I found this a very useful whistle stop tour, giving some useful background information. Following this the book has a brief period of scene setting, introducing us to Famagusta – the city setting for the book – and the Papacostas – the ambitious couple opening the luxury hotels that are to provide much of the focus of the story. This first chapter is quite long, and I found initially that I didn’t feel like I was gelling with it. I think I just wanted the story to get going and to draw me in.
By the end of the first chapter I was beginning to get drawn in, and then very quickly I was hooked and couldn’t read quickly enough. The core cast of characters is plentiful, I felt like I got to know all of them and was invested in their individual stories. Whilst the stories of both Savvas and Aphroditi Papacosta are interesting, for me it was the Georgious and the Özkans who really captured my attention. The two families come from the two warring sides, the Georgious are Greek Cypriot and the Özkans are Turkish Cypriot – this allows the reader an immediate view into both sides of the dispute from a very human, relatable position.
The two books I’d previously read by the author had both featured a modern story intertwined with a historical story. I must admit I’d expected this book to follow the same pattern and it was only when I reached the mid point that I realised this book was instead following an entirely linear narrative. It worked well for this story, I don’t think having a modern story woven through it would have added anything to the reading experience.
I liked the way that the author has tried to present a very balanced take on what happened in Famagusta in the 1970s, showing that both sides were following strong convictions and in doing so both sides committed crimes and atrocities. This never feels heavy handed, instead very matter of fact. I think having young children included in the two families helps with this – questions are asked by Mehmet Özkan in particular that allow for discussion of the human side of the conflict. This feels a particularly timely read as we’re currently living with many conflicts ongoing that are pitting two sides of communities against one another.
This book is atmospheric, and gripping. It covers a time in history that I knew virtually nothing about but by the time I reached the end of the book I felt both that I knew a little more and would like to do some reading of my own to learn more still.
The Sunrise is published by Headline Review in the UK from 25th September. Whilst I was provided with a review copy of the book all of the opinions expressed are my own.