Friday, May 5, 2017

Bitter Lemons by Lawrence Durrell

Bitter Lemons is Lawrence Durrell's account of his time on Cyprus between 1953 and 1956.  Durrell is best known for his literary success The Alexandria Quartet, but he was also a man about town, a government representative and someone who loved to get to the heart of a country.  He wanted to know the average citizens of the places he lived and met these simple folks with an understanding that made him popular and loved wherever he went.

The first half of the book covers Durrell's purchase and renovation of a villa in the Cyprus hills.  Readers will delight in the recounting of how a purchase is made and all the characters involved in the sale of a property.  The character descriptions of the various people he meets in the village and of those who came to do the work needed to make his house habitable are intriguing.  His love for the people of Cyprus shines through as well as his love of the island himself.  The descriptions of the gorgeous views and all the plant life available are stunning and the reader feels as if they were there also looking at hills covered with flowers, smelling the scents of lemons and wild flowers.

The second half of the book is more serious.  Durrell becomes the press advisor for the government when it becomes apparent that he will need more money to stay on the island.  This was the critical time in which the British were starting to realize that they would probably be helping Cyprus become a free nation.  The issue at hand, however, was the fact that the island was inhabited by large contingents of Greek and Turkish citizens and each wanted different things in a free Cyprus.  Durrell covers the failing efforts of the British administration to resolve things.  As government negotiations failed, armed resistance started up.  Soon family was fighting against family, young men were leaving school to fight as freedom fighters, and people started to die as bombs and assassinations occurred.  Durrell knew it was time to move on when one of his oldest friends there, a teacher, was killed one evening.

The Durrell family is undergoing a renaissance with the recent PBS adaption of their lives.  Gerald, the biologist, has a series of books about the animals he loved so dearly and most of those have been reissued.  Many were aware of Lawrence's master series which has been called the best exploration of modern love and an intriguing portrait of the Egyptian and Middle East cultures.  Readers of those volumes will enjoy this look at another portion of Durrell's life, and those new to him will enjoy getting to know him and being exposed to his luminous, marvelous prose.  This book is recommended to memoir readers and those interested in Durrell's life and adventures.

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