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The new novel by Victoria Hislop tells a story about Famagusta

25 October 2014 / 22:10:12  GRReporter
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The writer Victoria Hislop divides her time between England and Greece, with Patissia, a neighbourhood of central Athens, being her recent place of residence. She is a quick learner of Greek. There are Greek words that have inspired her to write long stories in her mother tongue. Her great desire is to be able to read a Greek newspaper one day without using a dictionary.

Shortly before leaving for Lefkosia (Nicosia) in Cyprus to present her new book, she talked to journalist Grigoris Bekos of To Vima daily about her novel East (Dioptra, 2014).

"I first went to Cyprus in 1978, after the Turkish invasion. I was in the northern part of the island, when I first saw Famagusta (this is the Frankish name of Ammochostos). It looked magical from far away. 40 years later, the division, which is alive and people on both sides think every day about it, still excites me," says the writer.

Hislop's narrative begins in 1972, with the construction of a luxury hotel in the tourist area of Famagusta. Two families, one Greek Cypriot named Georgiu and one Turkish Cypriot named Özkan, have moved to a city neighbourhood in an attempt to escape the increasing violence on the island. The writer tells a love story that intertwines with the great dramas of history.

Having already written about Crete (The Island, 2007) and Thessaloniki (The Thread, 2011), Hislop has now embraced the dark, traumatic case of modern Cyprus.

"I presented my book at 20 events in the UK, which were attended by many Greek Cypriots. I was struck by what a girl did at one of these events. She stood up angrily and shouted "Don’t you know that many missing Greek Cypriots were actually murdered by other Greek Cypriots who were their adversaries?" She apparently was mad at me for having failed to discuss this issue", says Hislop who in her book reflects on the divisions between Greek Cypriots over whether to unite with Greece or not.

The writer has refrained to put in her novel every idea that went through her head. "In my last book (the short story collection The Last Dance), I included a story about those who went missing in Cyprus. A Cypriot screenwriter of Turkish origin, Çiğdem, got in touch with me and asked for permission to make a short film based on the story. I thought it was a bit odd. This was a story of the inconsolable drama of Cypriot Greeks – why did she want to do it? I was curious, and subsequently accepted her proposal. A month later, without having personally met her, she sent me her script. I started reading it: it was nearly the same as my own story. But there was a change in the last page of it. Imagine a Cypriot Greek who mourns her husband, imagine a pigeon as well. In Çiğdem’s script, the camera focuses on the pigeon, follows his flight all the way over to the other side of the green line, and we see the pigeon landing next to a woman, a Turkish Cypriot who looks pretty much like the Greek woman, and just like her mourns her husband at the graveyard. I thought it was really moving, and very sweet too. I asked her why she had done it. She said she wanted to show the pain of the other side as well", explains Victoria Hislop.

It's interesting that this short film was actually never made. Yet the novel was written to tell the story of this island’s land having soaked in so much pain.

Asked by the newspaper about the return of the Parthenon marbles, the writer said that "the issue is complex and not at all easy."

"Every time I go to the British Museum and see the marbles, and there are thousands of people who look at them, and then I go to the Acropolis Museum, and see just a few visitors there, it occurs to me that the sculptures act as an advertisement in the British Museum to urge visitors to go to Greece. On an emotional level, I believe that the marbles ought to come home. But every time I talk to the director of the British Museum, he expresses his concerns about what could happen to the rest of the museum’s exhibits, if demanded by all other countries of origin."

Talking about how she writes her own stories, Hislop says she every day goes to the library, sits at the same desk from 9:00 to 12:00 without a break, and then another four hours in the afternoon, just like a soldier.

"I read a lot while writing a novel, about 50 or 60 books, out of responsibility towards the novel. There is no secret as to how one can write a bestseller: you write it with your heart rather than with your brains. I never learned how to write, I had it inside me. Unless you have ideas as to why you need to write, you can just as well do something else", Hislop points out and then adds: "Even though reading in Greek isn't so easy for me yet, I like Ioanna Karystiani and Nikos Kazantzakis. I'm optimistic about Greece and find its past so fascinating."

Victoria Hislop wrote her novel The Island in 2005, inspired by her visit to Spinalonga. The book became an international best-seller, published in 30 languages, and sold over 30 million copies worldwide. It also has a rendition as a series for Greek television in 26 episodes.

Then her love for the Mediterranean led her to Spain and the novel The Return. In her third novel The Thread, Hislop returns to Greece to tell the poignant story of Thessaloniki in the 20th century. Her fourth book is a collection of stories unfolding in Greece, entitled The Last Dance and Other Stories.

Tags: Victoria Hislop novels Famagusta Cyprus Parthenon
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