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Published on: 08/14/15 10:38 AM

Book review: Journey into Cyprus by Colin Thubron

Six months after Colin Thubron signed this book for me, and discussed the (to him) surprising fact that one could find Sheilas in India, I read it. At one go. It’s that kind of book.

When this master travelwriter goes anywhere (to Cyprus, in this case), the reader gets the kind of picture of the land, its people, its history and its present, in a manner that stays with her/him long after the last page is turned.

Using language like a paintbrush — figures quicken out of stone; lutes lilt under the stars; a man’s words people the air with images; walls crumble like old biscuit — Thubron takes us on an unforgettable expedition.

The journey is made by foot, all 600 miles of it, starting from Paphos in the west and travelling east, to end at Famagusta; the pace is steady, the gaze is measured, yet deeply appreciative of all he sees and experiences. For all his British reserve and studied air of impartiality, his interactions with the Greek (comprising 80% of the islanders) and Turkish Cypriots, both peoples struggling to reconcile their bloodied past with their fragile present, carry just the right amount of sympathy for an ancient land severely rent by both linguistic and religious politics.

Thubron takes the hard route (is there an easier one on foot, you wonder) through crag, massif, mountain, cliff and ridge, through limestone hills, sleeping mostly under the big sky, with the sea as constant companion. He meets monks devout/penitent/crazed and lapsed , gypsy fortune-tellers, lute players, prostitutes, fishermen, shepherds, giggling children, solemn old men with yellowing teeth, women comely enough to have descended from the race of the supposedly Cypriot Aphrodite. He comes upon landmarks that he notes, first attracted reverence which in turn, attracted a history.

This is a fabled isle, indeed. Zeus` grave is here, Aphrodite died here, Shakespeare`s Othello is commonly believed to be set in `a seaport in Cyprus.` It was home to the Knights Templar and Hospitaller, to Crusader kings, to the Mycenaean, Roman, Venetian, Phoenician, British, Greek and Turk. Thubron did the journey in 1972. The chasm has only widened since. The Cypriot anthem is titled: Hymn to liberty.

One image that stays with me is of Thurbron at Pano Lefkara on the evening of Good Friday. He watches people queue up to kiss a funeral cloth woven with the figure of the dead Christ. And he reflects that 2,000 years ago, a pagan would have recognised this festival as the death and resurrection of Adonis, mourned thusly, with his image laid on a bier among flowers. It is in this way that religion is underlaid with more ancient beliefs.

Travel is one of the most complex forms of self- indulgence, and ideally is undertaken for its own sake. At its goal, it dies. Colin Thubron in Journey into Cyprus.

Colin ThubronJourney Into Cyprustravel writing

Sheila Kumar • August 14, 2015

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