When I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy of Victoria Hislop’s latest novel ‘The Sunrise’, I knew it was going to be good. I’ve loved all of her three previous novels, and this was no exception.
‘The Sunrise’ is set in Cyprus, and more specifically in the ill-fated coastal resort of Famagusta, on the eve of civil war between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. To give the novel some context, the year of 1974 saw Famagusta transform from a thriving tourist destination to a ghost town, as some 40,000 people abandoned their homes and fled in the wake of an advancing Turkish army. An area of the city, known as Varosha, remains barricaded off to this day. The war created hundreds of thousands of refugees – many of whom were left with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
In Hislop’s novel, Savvas Papacosta and his wife Aphroditi have built the Sunrise hotel to be bigger and better than any other hotel in Famagusta. The epitome of luxury, no expense has been spared to create the ultimate holiday destination. Despite growing tensions outside of the tourist resort, Savvas is determined to continue expanding and harbours ambitions of building a grand hotel empire along the beach.
In Sunrise’s hairdressing salon, friends Irini and Ermine work side by side. Irini and her family – including her son and Savvas Papacosta’s right hand man, Markos – are Greek Cypriots. Ermine’s family are Turkish Cypriots. When the civil war arrives on their doorsteps, both families must overcome their differences and learn to trust each other as they struggle to stay safe in the abandoned city.
Victoria Hislop has a talent for taking periods of our recent history and bringing them to life through her characters. Here, the true devastating effects of a country at war are played out in front of our eyes on people from all different backgrounds and walks of life. In a time of desperation, people’s true characters are revealed – the good and the bad.
I found Aphroditi a really interesting character. She’s not particularly likeable at any point, but the events that take place in the novel force you to consider how she becomes who she is. Between her a dispassionate marriage, a heart-wrenching betrayal of trust and a brutal assault at the hands of Turkish soldiers, she is irrevocably changed by the civil war. She is one of thousands of people that go from having everything to having nothing in the blink of an eye, and it destroys her faith in herself and the people around her.
The ending of the novel, which demonstrates how the events of 1974 continue to affect everyone involved, even after so much time has passed, was especially poignant. We’re constantly reminded of the futility of war. The strength and endurance of the friendship between two families on opposite sides of the conflict also highlights the inherent similarity in the cultures of the two groups of people who were so set against each other.
Anyone familiar with the history of Cyprus will know where this novel is headed from the outset, but Hislop brings a human side to the story that makes it really hit home.