Betwixt and Between
The account of the hero Dimitri’s passage from small boy through adolescence and on into young manhood is set against the uncertainties, both political and domestic, which Cyprus, his homeland, and his family were experiencing in the 1950s. The Cypriot backdrop to Dimitri’s story and to the political events is not over-glamorised. The city streets are dusty and dangerous.
My reservations about this very worthy novel stem from that very worthiness. Although the characters are largely convincing, many of them, including Dimitri’s father, remain distanced, not only from one another but from the reader.
On pages 92 and 93, for example, where Dimitri and Laeta swim in the harbour, we have two teenagers having a conversation about “political issues” which not only seems unlikely, during a relaxed afternoon swim, but which is couched in very lofty, adult language. Incidents like this, and there are a lot of them, suggest that the novel has somehow lost its way and become bogged down in worthy detail which is working against what could be a compelling and evocative piece.
Because of its passionate themes (adolescent turmoil, family dysfunction and political violence), set against the vivid brilliance of the island of Cyprus, I had been expecting the telling of this story to light up. In one or two places this does happen, but for the most part it remains wallowing in detail, the characters just out of reach.
There is very little sense of the drama of even key events in this devastating social unrest, nor of its impact on the local population. Where are the sharp sunshine and the stark shadows of Dimitri’s personality and of the island that has formed him?