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Often I am attracted to a book by its cover and Aphrodite's War was no exception. With its beautiful blue and green scenery, which spoke to me of Greece and a young boy mirroring the actions of a plane, flying overhead it caught my imagination. Inside the cover I found that this was a tale of love set against a background of years of British occupation and Turkish oppression. The author, Andrea Busfield, spent most of her childhood years in Cyprus and has clearly loved the island and it's many inhabitants, whatever their nationality.
I love reading books by British authors because it's easier to understand the references as opposed to American authors. This isn't a racist thing, but I do think that British authors have a harder time getting published than American. I also have a fondness for Greece and its people who are generous to a fault, laid-back, friendly and have that rare ability to make the most of whatever life throws at them. This came through with other novels, including Captain Corelli's mandolin. So I was expecting a good story and found a great story instead. Clearly the author knows both the time period she writes of and the wonderful people who inspired her story.
When Loukis was born, a large baby with lots of hair and teeth he was dubbed Mikros Lycos (little wolf) by his adoring father, Georgios. His mother Dhespina knew then that her last of five boy children would be a special child and so he proved, being quiet, late to both talk and walk and fierce in nature though lovable as the family dog, Apollo. His childhood sweetheart, Praxi understands the depth of his solitary nature and the passion and love that he hides from the world.
Despite being the youngest of five boys, he's adored by them and adores them in turn. The British forces that occupy the island are no threat to the people until a ruling by the British government on not allowing the island to join with their Greek neighbors starts a rebel group under the name of EOKA and tensions lead to fighting. By an unlucky chance one of the twins, Nicos, is killed by a soldier and the family are drawn into a war they don't want. Loukis is devastated by this and also by a terrible misunderstanding with Praxi. Torn in two by misery he decides that he must make himself worthy of Praxi's love and will avenge Nicos by joining the paramilitary group.
For many years the island sees terrible upheaval and it's a while until Loukis finally decides to come home, disheartened and bereft by a comrade's loss he seeks out Praxi, his one true love, only to find her married with a young toddler. For a while he stays home and tries to fit back in, working in his neighbor's fields. The island is granted independence in 1960 but by then there is much unrest between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, which escalates into civil war. For Loukis nothing will ever be the same again.
One thing I've discovered by reading and by visiting Greece and her Islands is that her people are generally very special. I know we can never really understand a different background to ours but the author has poured a lot of that understanding into penning some very fine characters. People who are so wonderfully realized they could be someone you know yourself. It can't be co-incidence that the books I've read about this time period are full of characters that just want to go about their daily life and are only pushed into rebellion when it's impossible to turn away.
But I should be concentrating on the author's characters and these are magnificent in the ordinary ways, not as fighters or heroes, but as people, who love their families, help their friends and this includes the Turkish born who remain 'islanders' not enemies. So it's harder to read the book when friends and neighbors are split by circumstance and atrocities are made by both sides in a war that seemed like nobody wanted in the beginning. Maybe I'm naïve but that's the way I see it.
Loukis and Praxi remain the focus of the story and the way in which they interact focuses on love and companionship above country and the uncertain future. The Economidou family of Louki's birth are warm-hearted and compassionate people who laugh, love, swear a bit, tease and play together. The mother, Dhespina is the local midwife and herbal healer, the father a carpenter who is helped by the eldest son, Christakis, the other, Michalakis a journalist which is how the reader gets to know so much about the wars, and finally the second twin, Marios, who is slightly backward.
There are many other characters that make this a loving depiction of caring people under the yoke of war, but the author manages to imbue it with humour and devotion without blaming any side.
I would have found this hard to understand if I hadn't already known a little about the people and the Ottoman rule that left such chaos when they were defeated in the First World War. It left both Christian and Muslim people who had lived side by side in peace at war with no understanding of how it could be; these people who had been like family all their lives were now enemies?
Obviously I loved the book and found it hard to keep to a brief outline of the plot. I've left out much of the characters since they form part of the later story and I've added some background of the various wars since they are so much a part of the story. It's an ambitious book that tries hard to tell a love story spanning a lifetime against a backdrop of another love, that of ordinary people for their country. The result is a compelling read that is simply written, easy to read and makes you care so much it will have you in tears of sorrow, joy and laughter. As the footnote says-
A war that would never end
A love that would never die
A legacy that would live forever.
Strongly recommended and fans of Louis de Bernieres will love it.
It's a big book with 430 pages but in large print that's easy on the eye. Mine was a library find and since it's a recent publication it is about £10.79 new (paperback) £3.06 used.
Thanks for reading the review and I hope you read the book.