The books which I read for my WorldBookProject to represent Cyprus were both very special, for many reasons. But first of all, many thanks to Sophie Papatheocharous and her friend from the Australian High Commission who put me in touch with both authors.
68 & 69 Cyprus North & South
Aydin Mehmet Ali: Forbidden Zones
Lily Michaelidou: Arena
Before I read these two books, I ‘knew’ exactly three things about Cyprus: it’s somewhere in the Med, it’s divided in a Turkish and a Greek part, and people go there on holiday. Time and again, this reading project has opened new doors for me. The same happened here, and on several levels.
Sophie had sent my email to both writers who got in touch, and about a week later I was holding two beautifully designed books in my hands. I immediately loved the bilingual layout of Arena – I can’t read Greek, but it looks just wonderful and invites you to explore. And the strong, clear-cut lines of Forbidden Zones were sending out a message of ‘I’m not to be messed around with, but I’ll be honest and reliable’. It was.
Arena is a collection of poems dealing with a wide range of topics. The arena of life, filled with memories, travel, nature, people and much more, touched me deeply. Actually, one of the poems made me feel quite embarrassed. When it came to choosing a book to represent Greece, my first choice had been Nikos Kazantzakis, but then I decided to go for someone else’s book (it’s on my soon-to-be-read pile). And there was a poem about Nikos, and I was made aware how much he still means to people … Anyway, I found in all poems in Arena a connection to my life, and I very much enjoyed reading them.
Aydin Mehmet Ali has been called the most courageous woman writer in Cyprus, and Forbidden Zones made it clear why. It was certainly not an easy read regarding the topics: war, rape, domestic violence, being gay in a conservative society to name a few. But I felt drawn into them and I had the feeling of being a witness to real events. On top of that, I learned a lot, and not only about Cyprus and its unexpectedly cruel history, but also the writings of Robert Fisk.
Aydin and Lily, thank you both very much for sending me your books, and even more for enriching my life.