Tuesday 18 April 2017


I wanted to read The Sunrise because it's set in Famagusta, Cyprus, in 1974 at the time of first the Greek Cypriot coup and then the Turkish invasion, because I have written my own novel Cyprus Blues set in Cyprus within the same timeframe and I wanted to know if The Sunrise was any good.

I was living in Famagusta during that time and became a refugee when the Turkish army swept into Famagusta and displaced all of the occupants apart from Turkish Cypriots so it's a subject very close to my heart. Writing my novel was a way of using my knowledge and experience of life in Cyprus during those times and I'm very proud of what I've achieved but to date Cyprus Blues is only available as an e-book on Barnes and Noble.

By reading The Sunrise I felt I'd get an idea of whether I should pursue a more mainstream publication or leave it be because Hislop had nailed it as a subject and my novel just wouldn't match up.

Reading the positive comments on the back cover of The Sunrise from The Mail on Sunday and The Times and the many glowing reviews about  her first three novels at the beginning of the novel, I started reading with a heavy heart. This was obviously a literary genius and my own efforts would pale into insignificance.

However...the very first paragraph of The Sunrise had me cringing; "Famagusta was golden. The beach, the bodies of sunbathers and the lives of those who lived there were gilded by warmth and good fortune." To me, that is lazy, uninspiring writing. Of course, the fantastic Famagusta beach which spread in a wide curve for miles had the most beautiful golden sand I have ever seen but it's just too easy to just say it was golden.

And then there were all the fantastic boutiques, department stores and ultra-expensive jewellers in Hislop's Famagusta. Sad to say that if there were any, then I missed them and I lived there for three years. There was one small boutique but that was about it. Anyway, writers are allowed plenty of licence and it was clear that Hislop wanted to create Famagusta as a place of glamour to slot in two of her main characters: husband and wife team of Savvas and Aphroditi Papacosta.

This young, rich and attractive couple have so much money that Savvas is able to finance the building of what he believes will be the most ornate and expensive hotel in Famagusta, named 'The Sunrise', hence the name of the novel. Quite an inordinate amount of time is spent at the beginning of the novel describing all the fixtures and fittings of the hotel and had I not have been determined to read the whole book, I would have stopped there since I find that kind of description very boring.

Neither Savvas and Aphroditi are likeable and we learn very little about them other than Savvas is ambitious, chavanistic and fool-hardy and Aphroditi is beautiful, vain and likes wearing nice clothes and very expensive jewellery. They are very one dimensional. There is a chance to more fully develop Aphroditi's character when she has an affair but Hislop misses that chance and the affair lacks passion. If Aphroditi feels any inner turmoil we, the reader, are not aware of this.

The saving grace of the novel is the eventual (thankfully) concentration on the two working class families, the Georgious, who are Greek Cypriot, and the Ozans, who are Turkish Cypriot. The conflict betwen the two communities are reflected in these families and although all the characters are one dimensional, too, they are at least likeable and I did care what happened to them.

When the fighting of the coup starts, a son from each family disappears, obviously to become actively involved, and this is the reason why both families decide to remain in their homes in Famagusta once the Turkish invasion begins because they want their sons to be able to return home. So, whilst the rest of the poulation of Famagusta are getting the hell out of there, the two families remain and eventually live together, first in one of their homes and then in the abandoned Sunrise Hotel, where they live for months and months and months.

However, this just didn't work for me as a plot development. I can assure Hislop that when an army is rapidly approaching your home town, all you want to do is to get as far away as possible.

So, let's return to the glamour dimension of the story and whizz back to before the war. The Sunrise has opened for business and because Savvas has immediately embarked upon a new challenge - the building of another hotel only much bigger than The Sunrise - he has left the running of The Sunrise to his manager, Markos Georgiou. He's one of the sons of our Greek Cypriot family who eventually live in the hotel. He's particularly in charge of the supposedly glamorous night club.

Whilst I lived in Famagusta, my brother-in-law had one such nightclub but it was very different to the one described in the novel. His nightclub was incredibly exciting, with top Greek singers who inspired much breaking of plates as a sign from the audience that they rated the performance. (It's now banned but it was great fun.) It was noisy and vibrant and made you quite heady. There's no such passion in Hislop's nightclub; it's just over-expensive drinks and posing place, with Marcos and Aphroditi (because of course he's the one she is having the affair with) occasionally touching hands. Far, far too sedate and clinical and we learn nothing about how Marcos feels.

In a secluded part of the nightclub in The Sunrise, are very sturdy safes and when Savvas decides to leave Famagusta after the Turkish invasion, taking Aphroditi with him, he places all of the expensive jewellery he has give her in the safes and hands over the codes and keys to Marcos. At this stage, no-one thinks they'll be leaving their homes for long so it's a reasonable thing to do. However, as weeks turn into months and there has been no settlement allowing Famagustians to return, Marcos is taking pieces of jewellery to sell to a Turkish Cypriot in Nicosia, the capital city, miraculously avoiding detection every time despite being in an area over-flowing with Turkish soldiers.

Just quite what he is doing with the money is not explained, apart from buying a few guns for presumably his brother despite having no interest in politics.

As we approach the end of the novel, the plot goes into freefall.

Aphroditi is now living in Nicosia in her mother's house and wearing her mother's clothes because she brought none with her. Couldn't she have bought some new ones? And it goes completely against her previous vanity. On a visit to a cafe, she sees a woman wearing what she is pretty sure are some of her jewellery and so she decides to pay someone to take her back to Famagusta to find Marcos because he was in charge of it all.

How on earth would she know where to start looking and why go back to a Turkish controlled Famagusta, which would be highly dangerous? She has no idea that Marcos and his family are actually hiding in The Sunrise but off she goes on a perilous journey, trusting people who quite clearly aren't trustworthy, straight to The Sunrise. And surprise, surprise, she is raped by Turkish soldiers just outside the hotel, watched by Marcos who is on his way back after selling more jewellery. He shows no emotion and doesn't intervene and so another opportunity is lost for some character development.

Huseyin Ozkan, who is the teenage son of Halit and Emine, also witnesses the rape and Marcos' lack of intervention. He has been following Marcos after realising that he has been sneaking out of the hotel and it is during one of these evening excursions that an incident occurs and Huseyin is forced to kill Marcos in self-defence and hide his body in an empty shop. He can only tell his parents the truth and so the seemingly inexplicable disappearance of their son causes much anguish for the Georgious. Huseyin's feelings of guilt are the closest we come to any real sense of emotion within any of Hislop's characters.

The Turkish Cypriot dealer who had been waiting for Marcos that evening is keen to find out what has happened to his valuable source of jewellery and before we know it, there are three bulldozers outside The Sunrise with Turkish soldiers, ready to knock down the massive security railings, and our hapless group of refugees realise that they had better leave.

They pay someone to take them to Nicosia and here the two families part company - the Georgious to te Greek Cypriot sector and the Ozmans to remain in the Turkish Cypriot sector. Again, this is all told in a clinical way.

So now Hislop has the problem of ending the novel. Easy. She has a final chapter telling us that all our main characters, apart from Savvas, eventually end up in England and details who, through old age or illness dies, and what the rest are up to. There's no attempt to show - it's all telling. Very lazy writing in my eyes.

All that's left for me to say is that I intend to publish my own novel Cyprus Blues and give it as good a go as possible because this part of Cyprus's history needs a work of fiction which will give the reader a sense of actually being there and fully-rounded characters to engage with. Sorry, Victoria but I don't think The Sunrise is a very good novel for all the reasons above, plus your writing style is uninspiring to say the least.