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on 17 June 2013
Lawrence Durrell is an exceptionally gifted writer who uses all the art and craft of Writing to place you at a point in History and a geographical location where the deep processes of cultural progress are taking place , being tested and shaped for their future tasks.

In this work, "Bitter Lemons" we encounter the Greek love and hate for their British overseers and we taste the bitter lemon of the helplessness of the British foreign office to understand and deal with an early form of terrorism.
There is a tendency to believe that terrorism grows from an alien psychology which we do not understand. This work will challenge that assumption.
The subsequent history of Cyprus with the occupation by Turkey of much of the Northern part of the island after the removal of the British suggests that the bitter lemon analogy may not merely apply to the British inability to negotiate meaningfully with the Cypriots.
One critic once said that Lawrence Durrells prose has the gravitas of T S Eliot's Poetry. There are undoubtedly moments where this is true and never more so when Durrell captures the spirit of place of the island seen through the eyes of its inhabitants and its visitors from the British Isles.

Michael James
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on 15 August 2017
I got 3 of them; two as gifts and one for myself; great book!
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on 20 November 2017
Great - thank you
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on 30 July 2017
So well written. Having lived there I the early 1950s could just picture everything.
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on 27 August 2014
I read this to remind me of the lyricism of Lawrence Durrell. Authors don't seem to write like this any more.
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on 22 October 2012
a great book. However, I wish the publishers would use a better quality binding - I took it on holiday (to Cyprus) and the heat melted the glue .....!
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on 2 November 2016
I lived in Cyprus for about a year and I have read and re-read this book a number of times. However, the more I read about Durrell and the more I read of the books that he has written, the more I feel that I no longer understand him at all, not even vaguely. In particular, I have just finished "Prospero's Cell", which relates to his first sojourn in the Greek-speaking world (in Corfu) and my reactions to "Prospero's Cell" have now influenced my feelings about "Bitter Lemons". In everything that I've read by Durrell so far, he says explicitly, and also implies, that he is a hellenophile of the highest order. Yet, throughout the book, his attitude to the Greek Cypriots is arrogant and patronising. Additionally, in the second half of the book, it is clear that his sympathies in the struggles between the Greek Cypriots and the British administration lie with his masters in the British administration. In addition, it is almost impossible to discern his real feelings about the Turkish Cypriot minority because of his contradictory representations of them... in the few places that he bothers to mention them at all. For example, the man who finds his house for him, Sabri, is a Turkish Cypriot. Durrell describes Sabri's "reptilian", "lizard-like", phlegmatic, stoic approach to life, yet Sabri makes a very sound choice of house for Durrell and deals extremely diplomatically and astutely with the Greek family that is selling the house. Additionally, Durrell writes that this "is not a book about politics", yet spends the entire second half of the book writing about that very subject, and in very great detail.

So, perhaps the best policy with this book is to do as another reviewer, Julianthebarbarian, suggests: only read the sections on village life and skip the second half of the book (about the politics) entirely.
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on 22 November 2013
Bitter Lemons by Lawrence Durrell is one of those end of Empire books that many British writers attempted in the decades that followed the Second World War. Durrell's corner of the ever-to-be-sunlit territory was Cyprus, which in the 1950s was embarking on its own bid for independence and boasted its own continuing sunlight. The book has long been acknowledged as a classic of its indefinable kind, that mix of biography, travel, politics and memoir that is obviously literary whilst not apparently aspiring to literature. It is an impressionistic but deeply serious account of the experience of a participant in the brewing trouble and change. And now, almost sixty years after its publication, Bitter Lemons still has much to say about its setting and subject.

Lawrence Durrell went to Cyprus in the 1950s. At the start of the book, it is not obvious that he will soon be an employee of HM Government, a colonial officer charged with making sense of events that were already rapidly running towards violence and insurrection. The author's arrival and initial activity as a teacher form a light but keenly observed prelude to the book's later journey. The purchase of a village house in Ballapaix is both comical and empathetic. There is much that is farcical, but throughout the author presents himself as merely another participant. Nowhere does he express anything other than respect and affection for the local foibles and nowhere does he appear to place himself either detached from or in control of events. Equally, the school in which Lawrence Durrell works displays much that is caricature, but the scenarios are never anything less than completely credible. His interpretation of teenage girls' curiosity about their foreign teacher as attraction may display just a touch of vanity, but throughout the narrative convinces the reader of its participation in events, rather than its invention of them.

Bitter Lemons is replete with the keen observations and arresting reflections of an interested traveller. Here is someone who immerses himself in local life and culture. He does not come to study this society as a detached observer, an anthropologist, self-defined, pointed towards a self-directed purpose. Neither does he come to impose his own values, assumptions or will on communities whose social interaction and culture clearly do not conform to his own values. Lawrence Durrell seems to rejoice in the differences he records and he usually stops short of judgment when confronted with experiences that contradict his expectations. And he speaks Greek.

But Bitter Lemons is also a political book. It attempts no analysis and so always stays on the journalistic, even impressionistic side of events. There is a movement to break colonial ties, to end colonial rule. ENOSIS is a concept that embodies Cypriot union with Greece. EOKA is a military campaign, a terrorist action in current terminology, designed to fight the British. And sure enough, there is Durrell, already on the island, already accepted in his community, already a Greek speaker, a ready-made listening post for local gossip, and an intelligent gatherer of intelligence. Thus he is adopted by the colonial authorities and paid for his services.

Lawrence Durrell never really tells us the nature or extent of his duties. The activities he describes within the covers of Bitter Lemons suggest that his presence was low key, perhaps inconsequential, rendering him little more than another observer, even at his most active. But surely reality was tougher than he describes and there must be at least one more book in here that might relate what he actually did.

Well before the end, the eventual direction of events seems assured. There will be struggle, death, injury, treachery and finally accommodation, however ephemeral. But the real joy of Bitter Lemons is Durrell's ability to communicate the seriousness of the conflict and aspiration through a prism of continued affection and association. There is a story of a young man who postpones his joining of the armed struggle for independence from the British because he has won a university place in England. There is also the committed anti-cleric who observes that opposition is expressed through affection. And thus, via a light, impressionistic touch, Lawrence Durrell creates a text that delves surprisingly deep into a complex but enduring relationship between nations, cultures and interests.
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on 13 January 2015
served in Cyprus in the time frame of this account so revived many memories.
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on 22 March 2017
About the easiest & most enjoyable of his books for me.
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