‘When the war breaks out in 1974, he is one of 40 soldiers commanded to keep the hotel under their control until the very end.’ ALIX NORMAN reads the most powerful novel to come out of Cyprus in many a year

In the 1950s, the Ledra Palace Hotel was the symbol of Cyprus’ new promise.

“The Palace was the epicentre of the island’s recent history,” says Constantia Soteriou. “It was built as the promise of a new era; a haven for all nationalities, all communities. It drew people from all backgrounds: the wealthy bourgeoisie who lounged by its cerulean pool; the poorer working classes who made its beds – and its Brandy Sours…

“But in 1974, it became the site of the worst battle of the war; a symbol of all that could not be allowed to fall. After the division, it was the endpoint of student demonstrations, the gathering place for those who mourned their missing.

“And when the barriers finally opened, the Palace once more became a symbol of hope. Of promises that were given, but never kept. Of wounds that ran very, very deep.”

culture guests at the ledra palace(from the archives of the pio)

Guests at the Ledra palace(from the archives of the PIO)

An internationally award-winning novelist, 48-year-old Constantia began writing Brandy Sour in spring of 2022. By November, it had been published in Greek. And this June, the English version (superbly translated by Lina Protopapa) will launch in London.

From there, the sky’s the limit. Because this is, quite simply, one of the most powerful books ever to come out of our island.

Brandy Sour wrote itself,” says Constantia. “It poured out of me, a book whose time had come. A story of the people and for the people. The people of Cyprus.”

A self-confessed ‘child of the war’, Constantia grew up with “trauma that was almost a living thing – alive in the people, in my family, and in me. It’s shaped me from the start, shaped who I am and the way I feel. And,” she adds, “it’s shaped what I write about…”

Always conscious of “what it means to be Cypriot; the ordinary voices beyond the official narrative,” the author has seen her novels shortlisted for the Greek and Cypriot National Book Awards. Her short story, Death Customs, won the 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize; was translated into six languages, and featured on BBC Radio 4.

But while Brandy Sour adheres to the same themes, it’s in a different class altogether. In these 22 short tales (powerful slices of time and emotion that unfurl chronologically), we learn of those who peopled the Ledra Palace Hotel.

culture prisoner exchanges took place at the ledra palace (from the archives of the pio)

Prisoner exchanges took place at the Ledra palace (from the archives of the PIO)

We encounter a wide-eyed Maid who, entranced by guest Yuri Gagarin, wonders whether the cosmonaut saw God when he travelled to the stars. The Archbishop, endlessly contemplating ‘the Struggle’ as he walks through the Troodos Mountains.

In the story of the Extra, we hear from a young man who acts in a pre-war film set at the hotel…

‘The Big Hotel turns into a war scene with fake blood, traitorous screams, murder. He dies with pleasure again and again. Soldier A and B and C. An extra.

‘When the war breaks out in 1974 and he is drafted to fight against the Turks, he is one of 40 soldiers commanded to keep the hotel under their control until the very end. The Big Hotel turns into a war scene with blood, traitorous screams, murder. He becomes an extra again, and he dies again and again. Soldier A and B and C. An extra.’

After the invasion, we meet the Maître D’, who watches his beloved Venetian room falling into ruins in post-war footage. And the heart-broken Mayor, who struggles to accept the disunion of his beloved city.

Years later there’s the Builder: examining the hotel, he finds only pain in its cracked tiles, mildewed walls, and constellation of bullet holes. And then the Daughter who, when the checkpoints open, queues for hours in the summer heat to pour rosewater on her mother’s grave…

In these 22 stories, we find the history of Cyprus’ division.

But these aren’t the tales the world heard; they’re not the narratives of dignitaries, peacekeepers, or political analysts.

These are the stories of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances: characters whose lives are impacted by Enosis, by 1974, by the ongoing repercussions of partition.

Many of the people are drawn from real life – although names are never given, we know who the Archbishop is, we recognise the Mayor who loves his city with all his heart.

Less obvious are the painter (though some will recognise the wily Kashalos), and the photographer, Tommy Martel, whose iconic images became the global face of the invasion.

Others are an amalgamation of characters and stories: the doorman who secretly plants roses from his village in the hotel gardens; the mother cowering in the basement while bombs rain overhead; the guerrilla fighter who masquerades as a waiter, passing information back to his commander. These are drawn from tales Constantia heard as a child, from people she’s since met. And from her own imagination…

“Unlike fact, fiction provides the emotion that a story needs in order to be heard,” the author suggests. “Fiction does not deliver the official narrative, bolstered and buttressed by years of misinformation and propaganda. Instead, it cares.”

In the powerful vignettes of Brandy Sour, we remember the dreams and struggles of our past. We rediscover our resilience, our perseverance. We see the lives of our parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, sisters and brothers. And, ultimately, we find our own selves reflected on every page.

Brandy Sour is the story of the people of Cyprus. The real people. The real story.

To pre-order Brandy Sour, visit foundryeditions.co.uk Follow Constantia on Instagram @soteriouconstantia