Hall of Fame Review: The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop (5/5)

Tuesday, 23 September 2014
The new novel from million-copy bestselling author Victoria Hislop.

In the summer of 1972, Famagusta in Cyprus is the most desirable resort in the Mediterranean, a city bathed in the glow of good fortune. An ambitious couple are about to open the island's most spectacular hotel, where Greek and Turkish Cypriots work in harmony. Two neighbouring families, the Georgious and the Özkans, are among many who moved to Famagusta to escape the years of unrest and ethnic violence elsewhere on the island. But beneath the city's façade of glamour and success, tension is building.

When a Greek coup plunges the island into chaos, Cyprus faces a disastrous conflict. Turkey invades to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority, and Famagusta is shelled. Forty thousand people seize their most precious possessions and flee from the advancing soldiers. In the deserted city, just two families remain. This is their story.

The Sunrise is my Book of the Month for September!

My favourite place in the world is Cyprus. Having holidayed there three times I always say that I left my heart behind as it's the only place I've ever felt content. I first fell in love with the island as a holiday destination, I remember the first time stepping off the plane as if it was yesterday. The first morning I walked out into intense heat. My love for the island led me to research its history, I remember the first time I saw pictures of an abandoned Famagusta. So creepily eery yet extremely fascinating. So when bookbridgr had 25 early copies of The Sunrise I was desperate to get my hands on one and was ecstatic when I did. Written by Victoria Hislop I was confident the book would be a success, having finished it I am blown away, speechless, astonished. Which doesn't bode well for this review...

Varosha in its heyday
The book opens depicting for me the best holiday experience you can have. I pictured myself walking along the beach, sunning myself by the pool, drinking Keo and eating the most gloriously delicious Cypriot food (it almost makes me want to cry thinking about it) and so for anyone not knowing what the book is about this could be a romance novel or something along those lines but knowing what was to come just makes the opening scenes all the more emotional, you just know what's about to happen to this idyllic, perfect part of the world. The picture portrayed by Victoria in the opening is the one that made me fall in love with Cyprus and there's a quote from early on that I really love that I've got memorised: 'It seemed entirely credible that Aphroditi, the Goddess of Love, might have been born on this island. It was a place to be in love with life itself', and it really is. I felt an emotional connection to the characters even in these opening scenes, knowing their lives were about to be changed forever.

'It seemed entirely credible that Aphroditi, the Goddess of Love, might have been born on this island. It was a place to be in love with life itself'

The Sunrise is a luxurious hotel being built by Savvas Papacosta and his wife Aphroditi. The biggest and best hotel in Cyprus only the very wealthy could afford to stay in the height of Summer. Working in the hotel are different nationalities including Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Amongst them are Turkish Cypriot Emine Özkan whose son Hüseyin works on the beachfront and Greek Cypriot Markos Georgiou who is Savvas' right hand man. I loved reading about the formation of the hotel, it was so magical and perfect but believable too as places like this exist today elsewhere on the island, my chosen Paphos hotel bringing to me the happiness experienced by the guests of The Sunrise. Simmering in the background though is a lot of tension, and involved are Emine's son and Markos's brother. You know what's coming and my heart was constantly in my throat in anticipation of the impending invasion and the scenes that would follow.

"Markos moved between the two co-existing worlds. The kaleidoscopic tourist playground of blue sky, warm sea, bikinis and cocktails was real enough, but where the sun did not penetrate, there were shadowy places where activities of a different kind took place."

Character wise in the beginning I wondered whether Markos would become a favourite character of mine but Victoria left me stunned with where his story went and my opinion for him changed drastically. My favourite character was Aphroditi, her story broke my heart and almost reduced me to tears. It's incredibly hard to talk in detail about why but Victoria doesn't hold back and writes a story that is true to life. The Özkan and Georgiou family are neighbours, the mothers are friends, when the invasion comes they find themselves remaining behind in Famagusta, trapped as a fence is put up around the city. It is up to Markos and Hüseyin to forage amongst the looted shops for food, and try to remain silent as soldiers patrol the city. Despite the traumatic events there was something comforting about the two families, Turkish and Greek coming together and almost becoming friends. Finding refuge becomes more and more difficult and in the background is a building tension between Markos and Hüseyin.

Visitors are not allowed

Aphroditi meanwhile finds herself at a camp with Savvas. There the rich mingle with the poor. Your wealth becomes irrelevant and this is where Aphroditi really shone as a character and the nastiness and selfishness of Savvas became even more clearer. Savvas believes a return to Famagusta and his chain of hotels is imminent, Aphroditi meanwhile is mourning something much more important than bricks and mortar. Savvas is a greedy, money hungry, selfish person who I felt no sympathy for throughout the book.

"Everyone, male or female, religious or agnostic, was reduced to the same. What they were now and what they had been only a few days before were immeasurably different. For now they were all stripped to nothing."

There's so much I want to talk about with this book yet I can't for fear of spoilers. I wish I was part of a book club so I could discuss it in depth. The research from Victoria is incredible. Never once did it feel like a history lesson yet there's plenty of factual events documented here but in a very readable way as part of the story. The writing is fantastic, almost beautiful in parts yet powerful in others it definitely stays with you. The thought of leaving your home, perhaps with the belief you could return in the near future only to find you can never return is incomprehensible. I found myself imagining the abandonment and destruction of my favourite part of Cyprus and even then you can never feel what these families went through, it's just awful.


I can't praise this book enough without sounding like a broken record. I went into it hoping it would be good and simply put it was incredible. It's one of the best books I've ever read in my life and reading 200 or so a year that's a big compliment to give. I can only hope readers of this review become readers of this book and love it as much as I did. I feel privileged to have been amongst the first people to receive and read The Sunrise and can't thank Caitlin and the bookbridgr team enough. Please, please pick up this book. It's just fantastic. This is a book that will stay with me forever, already people have asked to borrow it yet I'm loathe to lend it out as I want to treasure it (and hopefully get it signed). Every so often a book comes along that just affects you emotionally, where when you finish it you can't stop thinking about its characters. Like the story of Cyprus itself this book is impossible to forget once you've read it.

Thanks to bookbridgr for the review copy. 

Images reproduced with permission from Sometimes Interesting

2 comments:

  1. This is such a good book to remind us, as tourists to Cyprus, about the relatively recent and terrible history that this island has. The author beautifully evokes the feel of this wonderful place... it is in a way as you say 'the story of Cyprus'. Thank you for you sharing your review!

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  2. Did I read the same book? Poorly written and a struggle to get through to the end. Lacking depth of characterisation it left me feeling little about anyone in the story

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