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Friday, 3 July 2015

Review: The Sunrise, Victoria Hislop

This is Victoria Hislop's fourth novel and by this point it is very clear that she is a mistress of both substance and style.

Set in Famagusta, Cyprus, in 1972, the story opens with a rich, detailed and immersing description of Famagusta that is so picture-perfect it almost made me go to check out cheap flights for Cyprus (I held off). "Here was a glimpse of Paradise," Hislop writes, and I could certainly see it. The first few pages lay extensive groundwork that give the reader a secure sense of place, the better to understand the interweaving stories that follow. 

We are soon introduced to Savvas and Aphroditi Papacosta, a couple with a dream of building the most fabulous hotel in Famagusta (support by Aphroditi's father). Their vision is realised, in expensive, luxurious detail, and soon The Sunrise hotel becomes the place where anyone who is anyone wants to be. It seems set to be a perfect life for Savvas and Aphroditi, but for a few things. Aphroditi's mother is still heartbroken over the death of Aphroditi's brother, Dimitris, in the fighting between Greek and Turkish Cypriots eight years previously. This information being sown early on gives a nice undercurrent of bubbling tension - Savvas Papacosta works extremely hard to create a perfect image for his guests but there are some things even out of his control (not to say he doesn't try to fix that). 

We're soon introduced to a range of diverse and complex characters: Markos Georgious - Savvas' right-hand man - and the Georgious family; the Ozkans; and Frau Bruchnmeyer, whom came to Cyprus on holiday and never went back to Germany. At first their lives cross over but a little. However, as time goes on, and relationships and dynamics became complex - and even fraught - the cast of seemingly separate characters are drawn inexorably more and more into each other's lives, with little say so from them. 

This is none so evident as when the Turkish invade Cyprus and capture Famagusta. The bright, sprawling, jewelled of Cyprus becomes a ghost town, with but a few within - the Ozkans and the Georgious - whose lives become a fight for survival. The juxtaposition of their lives within The Sunrise, which becomes their refuge, and the narrative of life at the hotel before the invasion is startling. It is a refuge in both capacities, but for very different purposes.

Hislop gives us blue skies, golden beaches, love, heartache, thrill, fear, and more. Richly layered, this is a story one could read several times over and draw out something new each time. The main reason I will pick up anything by this author, even without knowing anything about the story, is that I can guarantee I will be entertained, moved, and be inspired to learn more about the bit of history she was woven within her narrative. Hislop's talent for writing compelling stories based on lesser known historical events is immense. If I could have read it in one sitting, I would have. A hugely enjoyable and moving read. 

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