I opened Cadences, a Journal of Literature and the Arts in Cyprus wondering whose story would be honestly told and how well. Having lived in Turkey for a couple of years in the 1990s, I knew Cyprus – a pretty island in the Mediterranean and “shared” by both Turkey and Greece – to be caught in a political tug of war between the two countries. Published by the European University of Cyprus, Cadences presents itself as a bridge between the Greeks, Turks and other peoples on the island and lets the reader know its advisory board is made up of writers from the Greek Cypriot, Turkish Cypriot, Armenian Cypriot, Palestinian-American, American and London Cypriot communities. Once the “Editorial Statement” covers all these bases, the editors get down to business, stating: “Writers inevitably see things differently from politicians.”
I anticipated selections determined by committee, and therefore without much bite to them. What I found were poems, stories, essays and reviews written in three languages (Greek, Turkish and English), some translated, and almost all posing in one form or another these difficult questions: What do outsiders see when they look at Cyprus? And what do Cypriots see when they look outward?
In a piece of elegiac prose by writer Stephanos Stephanides, the speaker describes a photo of himself as a child with his parents on the island before his mom and dad separated and they were all dispersed to different points on the globe: “You might say we are looking the wrong way, at the camera, toward the land.” He, like many of the writers in this issue, examines his nostalgia for an island replete with five-thousand-year old ruins and contemporary hostilities, and the result is often sadness and a lyrical rumination on loss.
Many of Cyprus’s young people leave to study abroad, marry or find jobs, and the writing reflects that displacement. In a prose piece “Another Life,” by Yiorgios Phinikarides, the speaker travels to an orphanage in Russia and spends much of his visit struggling with how to fairly describe the orphans. In the end he presents a striking discovery that avoids sentimentality. His ability to know himself as an outsider seems key to his ability to see what others miss.
The poetry in the issue occasionally ventures into examining what the Cypriots see when they look at themselves in relation to each other. Bahriye Kemal Guceri in her poem “Place Points” shows a speaker struggling with her bloodlines: “Islander I am / Please take my father’s blood from me / Only leave me my mother’s.” The speaker never specifies her nationality or race or even specifically where she is located, so her torment is universal and avoids the directly political. The poem ends suggesting there will be no resolution for her in this place.
Most of the writing in Cadences seemed to be striving for answers so far beyond the tangible that at times the subtleties were hard for me, an outsider, to grasp. What is prevalent throughout, however, is a constant awareness of a history so long and storied it seems at times to overwhelm contemporary modernizations and strife.
In Cadences’s pages I found an intriguing Cyprus inhabited by writers who I would be glad to read more from and an island I would like to see with my own eyes.