People in Bitter Lemons are always slipping off for a glass of the stuff on some terrace or another. In the first third, helped immeasurably by his knowledge of Greek, Durrell is getting settled in, and it's a sort of Cypriot Under a Tuscan Sun. The chapter in which he buys a house aided by the wonderfully cunning Turk Sabri is alone worth the price of admission. Bitter Lemons is written in that wonderful mid-century English style that, to my mind, is unequaled.
Although the first paragraphs of the book are quite purple, it seemed to promise to deliver the goods on stereotyping Cypriot Greeks, if only, it turns out, because Lawrence Durrell is so British. Then, in keeping with brief references in his little brother's book, he picks a high point in his house to slowly eat grapes and crack the whip on Greek workmen who may be lingering to tell the stories he loves so much. True, it appears to have been an inopportune time, with, according to Durrell, Athens radio whipping up the stupid peasants with ideas of independence. Durrell can take a breather to add random notes about sunsets in the book, but he can't be bothered to provide details on this constitution, even in an official capacity. And so the rest of the book apparently goes, giving Durrell's unabashedly nationalistic sketch of the war of independence in Cyprus. Gerald makes a short appearance in this book, and although not much is described, he wins more Greek favour in a few days than Lawrence deserved with his dissimilations, lies, and empire building.
This is not a political book, but simply a somewhat impressionistic study of the moods and atmospheres of Cyprus during the troubled years 1953-56 or to be more precise during the armed struggled against the British. Lawrence Durrell, 1957 A British perspective of the 1950's in Cyprus I've chosen to write in English, because English is a window to the world, like it or not. His descriptions of the Pentadaktylos mountains are eerie and romantic (with romantic I don't mean romantic as in St. Valentine's and shite like that but in the sense of aesthetic experience with feelings of awe, and apprehension while experiencing the sublimity of nature). Without this armed struggled against the British, Cyprus would have gained her independence probably 10-20 years later during the rise of decolonisation in Africa. Hepworth Dixon's book British Cyprus "What they are they were; and what they were they are - Cypriots are an indolent careless & mimetic people, but without a spark of Turkish fire, without a touch of Grecian taste. ...and for almost three years we see the people of Cyprus and the struggle through his eyes.
(p.19) I don't agree that artists are born not made, but do love the end of the first quote from "and the best of them..." as I think Durrell captures one of the essences of why travel is so captivating-- it is shuttling back and forth from the outward journey to the inward journey of discovery and back again, that keeps each so endlessly captivating.
I love reading memoirs and books on travelling, not because of I learn new stuff about new places nonsense, but because they help me to understand the stand of the writer; since those kind of books reveal how their writers perceive people and the world around them more readily and personally than say, a novel they design. So, when I got The Bitter Lemons of Cyprus out of a Kindle deal (I was planning to read the infamous Alexandria Quartet for a while and thought it would be nice to get the feel of Durrells writing beforehand), I was curious, to say the least. As it was aimed in his brother's book, my opinion of Lawrence Durrell was quite firmly set and low, and I was sure that I would find him an unbearable, pompous person who genuinely lacks genuine genuineness, full of pose and airs. At this point, I was doggedly making further allowances for Durrell, reminding myself that the book was written on the second half of the 20th century, that men were then permitted, hell, even expected to think and act like they knew everything about everything even or especially when they were clueless, that that was the way cookie crumbled then, that Durrell was trying his best to be fair and understanding in his own snobbish way; but I am not going to play it down, Bitter Lemons is one of the most frustrating, ignorant and equivalently arrogant piece of work written by a member of an occupying power about the place they had occupied I have ever had the misfortune of laying my eyes upon. I still havent finished the book, I dont believe I can muster enough patience at any time soon to do so, but here are some examples for your immediate pleasure: What does amaze one however is that the Turks, perhaps through lack of a definite cultural pattern of their own, or of one worth imposing on the Greeks, left them freedom of religion, language and even local government- and indeed vested in them a large part of the Imperial administration: a recognition perhaps of the enviable qualities of restlessness and imagination which they themselves lacked. Greeks were let to keep their own religion and freedom and language and even local government!
It was a wonderful experience reading this book. Durrell can move the reader through various emotions, given the political instability that turns to terrorism among the peaceful villages of the island full of beautiful and kind people, and in contrast the humorous characters and experiences he encounters during his time in Cyprus.
But despite the fact that Durrell lived there for a few years, as a teacher and then as an employee of the British government, I never got the sense that he attempted to become part of the community - the seeming lack of connection and the sometimes detached writing felt heavy and "ploddy".
A description of his time spent in Cyprus during "Enosis", Greek Cypriots demand for union with mainland Greece, this made fascinating reading. In the end though it is a very fine read, at times wonderfully descriptive and very interesting.
It introduced me to the cultural clash between Greeks and Turks. (Surprisingly, I have since visited both Greece and Turkey and was struck with how similar their cultures are on the surface.) This book also awakened me to the difficulty of an outside power (in Crypus' case, the United Kingdom) trying to impose peace on a population who would really rather fight among themselves--or, at least, have animosity.
A passionate and dedicated writer from an early age, Durrells prolific career also included the groundbreaking Avignon Quintet, whose first novel, Monsieur (1974), won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and whose third novel, Constance (1982), was nominated for the Booker Prize.