Cyprus: double vision

May 22, 2012

Royal Mail nearly scuppered this one. When Haris Ioannides, director of Cypriot publisher Armida Publications kindly offered to send me a selection of titles in English, I waited with excitement for the package.

And waited. And waited. A delivery card appeared telling me there was a parcel at the sorting office for me, but when I trotted off to collect it I was met with blank faces. Computer said no.

Eventually, I received an email from Ioannides telling me that the three books, having travelled to London and back, were now in Nicosia again. Could he send me the ebook pdfs instead?

By this stage, buoyed by British-Cypriot writer Lorna V’s enthusiasm for the writers on Ioannides’s list, I had already ordered a copy of Nora Nadjarian’s Ledra Street. However, given past form, I thought I’d play safe and get the ebook version too. Ioannides emailed me the files, whereupon the print volume arrived. I now had two copies: one for each eye.

As it turns out, this doubled reading experience was particularly appropriate for Ledra Street, a short story collection set in Nicosia, the last divided capital city in the world. Terse, jagged and sometimes fragmentary, Nadjarian’s tales capture moments in lives and psyches sundered when the island was split in two during the Turkish invasion of 1974. Ledra Street, once a bustling thoroughfare, is now a blind alley populated by people yearning for things they can never attain: an estranged son, a perfect love, or simply ‘a time when Ledra Street was whole, non-pedestrianised, and we still called Turkish coffee, Turkish’.

Nadjarian’s attention to detail and use of the mundane to capture the extraordinary experience of seeing your homeland torn in half make the book. Whether she’s describing politicians rambling on a TV chat show, a disastrous haircut or a trip to a museum, the writer portrays the irreconcilable rifts in perspective that leave people isolated and sad. One of the most successful stories in the book, ‘Guided Tour’, for example, sees a woman leading a group of tourists around the city’s sites, and portrays the gulf between their casual absorption of the  neat list of facts she reels off and the turbulent emotions behind the events:

‘Everything makes perfect sense. Of course, of course, history when it becomes history, when it can be read in history books, when it can be talked about by tourist guides, makes perfect sense. The only way out.

[...]

‘What a strange thing, a rare pain, to be trapped in your own country.’

This packing of meaning into street signs and small talk, combined with the brevity of many of the pieces, gives them a poetic quality. At times, it almost feels as though they are poems that have been stretched like canvasses across the page to fill the space of stories. This impression is enhanced by Nadjarian’s creative use of language, which sees metaphors blurred and spread over paragraphs like watercolour paints.

Occasionally, the fragmentary nature of the pieces is too stark. I wasn’t sold on the ‘Ten Nights at the Movies’ vignettes, which ended the book and felt faintly contrived. Similarly, one or two of the ‘Ten Little Stories of Love and Hate’ were so stripped back as to teeter into the banal.

On the whole though, this is a powerful series of pieces that harnesses violent gusts of emotion in taut writing, pulling the collection along at an exhilirating pace. Familiar and yet strange, European and yet not, Nadjarian’s voice reveals what word artists can achieve, creating a lively collection that intrigues, delights and challenges. I’m very glad my copies found their way to me in the end.

Ledra Street by Nora Nadjarian (Armida Publications, 2006)

4 Responses to “Cyprus: double vision”

  1. yeltnuh said

    Ledra Street sounds like a winner. Thanks.

  2. CarolS said

    I’m so enjoying this much-more-than-blog. (Apart from your persuasiveness not allowing me to resist buying more to pile onto my TBR book mountain). The perceptive, humane and informative responses to each book always pay proper attention to the writing so I’m respecting and trusting your take on each book. An excellent project. Brave you, salute.

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