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A "good read"?... or an old, dried-up bit of lemon?
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.