The Island of Missing Trees, by Elif Shafak; and a brief note on the Green Line in Nicosia

Second paragraph of third chapter:

The heat had started in the small hours of the morning, swiftly building up. Around ten o’clock, it had fully erupted into being, just after Turks and Greeks on each side of the Green Line had finished their morning coffees. Now it was past noon and the air was stiff, difficult to breathe. The roads were cracked in places, the tar melting in rivulets, the colour of charred wood. A car somewhere revved its engine, its rubber tyres struggling on the sticky asphalt. Then, silence.

A novel set in Cyprus and London, by well-known Turkish writer Elif Shafak, telling several parallel stories of forbidden love and tragic death from the points of view of the protagonists and also from the perspective of the fig tree in their garden, both on the smaller island and a shoot from it that is planted in the London garden. I confess that because I am already familiar with the history and current situation of Cyprus, I was not very surprised by any of it, and I found the imagery frankly a bit clunky (eg the parallel between the fig tree, buried for its own protection, and the corpses of civilians killed in 1974, thrown down a well to protect their killers). But if the novel brings the island’s story to a new generation of readers who aren’t as familiar with it, that’s fine by me. You can get it here.

Reading it did make me dig into the archives and find the original Green Line map of Nicosia as drawn by a British officer, Major-General Peter Young, in 1963, and compare it with the current situation (ie since 1974) on OpenStreetMaps. It’s striking that in the city centre, very little has changed at all, and there’s not a lot of difference in the nearer suburbs either. Further out, of course, is a different matter.

I used to have fantasies of some day opening a long-shut cupboard in the Green Zone to find a bunch of tapes of lost Doctor Who stories, abandoned by some luckless TV technician in 1974, but in fact now that I’ve established that the Green Zone in Nicosia is still basically where it was when established in 1963, I accept that this is never going to happen, especially not to me.

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