Review of Δεκαοχτώ Αφηγήσεις, by Stavros Karayanni (Rodakio, 2012)
Cadences: a Journal of Literature and the Arts in Cyprus, Fall 2012
Niki Marangou’s book makes a rare and valuable contribution to Cypriot literature. As the title indicates, eighteen narratives by women comprise this edited volume that allows us to traverse some of the pathways treaded by these women while engaged in struggles to cope with adversity, raise children with very limited means and no support from the husband, and retain their humanity and a sense of dignity under duress. The stories are solely autobiographical, deeply moving and engaging, and their wisdom and hope breathe through the language used in the narratives; a language rich in its plainness and nuanced in its simplicity. Moreover, as the editor points out in her introduction to the volume, the twentieth century history of Cyprus becomes manifest through the details of these women’s lives; British colonialism, the EOKA liberation struggle, the 1974 coup and invasion.
Furthermore, Marangou suggests that “in these difficult times, when nobdy can be certain about anything, these women possessed a Doric, primeaval awareness of right and fairness, that left me speechless and helped me apply discrimination in my life” (15, my translation). My appreciation does not involve an equal romanticization of these women. In fact, in an objective sense, what I found most intriguing is that the narrator participates in the island’s history offering a captivating vantage point from which to assess the historical circumstance. Often in the book, the master narratives that have gained enormous currency in the Cyprus Republic are disrupted by the incidents narrated; a disruption that is vital if we are to move forward and escape the trappings of these master narratives.
Furthermore, in a personal sense, I have been touched by the immediacy and tender eloquence of some of the narratives because I have grown with three generations of women; a grandmother, a mother, and an older sister. They took care of me, guided me, taught me, talked to me, and their roles shaped my sensibility. And the Cyprus that many of the Eighteen narrate makes sense to me in a way that blends with my memories of the texture of an earlier Cyprus and the stories about incidents, families, and individuals that formed the oral “reference library” of my village. And this is precisely what I would not like this book to be read as: an exercise in nostalgia. It is not. These narratives bespeak the present as much as the past and we need to read them resisting the seductive and facile trappings of unproductive nostalgia.
I enjoyed each story in Δεκαοχτώ Αφηγήσεις as I enjoy a monologue by a great female character of World Drama acting in the theatres that Cyprus has been and continues to be. The editor may be seated front row but is clearly a cast member, and Cyprus sometimes as frame, as character, and always as social and physical landscape of often irreconcilable contraries: love and loathing, pain and elation, belonging and exile.
edited by Niki Marangou