By Ariana Salvo
I am writing this post to the sound of the Muslim call to prayer, which is reverberating along the tangled network of streets that form the circulatory system of the divided city of Nicosia, on the island of Cyprus. I’m sitting on the patio of the Home for Cooperation café, located in the United Nations buffer zone—a strip of land that separates the Republic of Cyprus to the south from the Turkish occupied north. I’ve been living on Prince Edward Island for about 16 years, but I spent my childhood and youth on this far more arid, Mediterranean island. It has been twelve years since I was last here. When I was growing up, crossing the border was a big deal, and the buffer zone was an entirely abandoned section of the city. I have been pleasantly surprised to find that I have returned to an island where tourists and locals now cross back and forth at all hours with ease, and a buffer zone that boasts a café that accepts both Euro and Turkish Lira, and is filled with people from both sides of the border as well as United Nations troops. Unlike PEI, where spring arrives slowly, here it is a blink-and-you-miss-it season. The last of the wild crimson poppies are almost all gone. The air is heavy and sweet with the scent of Jasmine, and white, purple, and fuchsia bougainvillea cascade over stone walls and wrought iron fences. After so many years on PEI, sitting here and writing this in 30-degree Celsius weather, it’s hard to believe it’s only spring here, and that the real heat of summer is yet to come.
I am back in Cyprus finishing the research for a novel I’m writing, which is set on this island in the late 1940s, so the books I’ve been reading lately reflect my desire to immerse myself in the 1940s, as well as my interest in deepening my understanding of the history of the island I grew up on from World War II through the present. I have read many books this spring, but the four I review below stood out from the rest as particularly good reads-- books that will remain on my bookshelves for many years to come. Since this is an exceptionally warm spring for me, I have paired them with teas that I enjoy iced (but they are equally delicious hot!). Here are my four spring tea and book pairing recommendations:
The Rose Code is a work of fiction set in 1940s England about three young women from very different backgrounds who all answer the call to serve their country during World War II and find themselves among the ranks of those trained to break German military codes. Osla is a beautiful young woman from a wealthy society background who has everything anyone could want, except for the one thing she most desires—professional recognition and to be taken seriously. Mab comes from a low-income family in East End London. She initially appears superficial and calculated in her quest to secure a wealthy husband, but as the story unfolds, we learn that appearances can be deceiving, and that her goal of security through marriage is rooted in early life traumas. The third main character, Beth, is socially awkward and has been infantilized and abused by her parents her whole life—deluded into believing herself stupid and incapable of living independently until she is recruited to be a codebreaker at Bletchley Park and begins to realize her true capacity to serve and love. The story moves back and forth between the years leading up to the end of the war and 1947, when we learn that the three women’s friendship has been shattered by betrayals none of them could forgive. Brought together again by the discovery of a letter that may finally expose the truth of an incident that resulted in Beth being committed to an insane asylum, the women draw on their skills and knowledge, and the loyal community of individuals who worked alongside them during the war to unravel one last secret.
I would pair this novel with a cup of iced Heaven on Earth, lightly sweetened. This tea is a combination of black, oolong, and white teas tossed with Prince Edward Island rose petals, which add a subtle sweet note to the blend. This tea represents a world of diverse cultures blended in harmony. I pair it with this book because those serving at Bletchley Park came together from a diversity of backgrounds and walks to life to work towards a single goal—breaking Nazi code to decipher their secret messages and win the war.
In my last blog I said that it is rare for me to recommend two books by the same author in a single post, but since I’m about to do it again, it may not be so rare after all! I enjoyed The Rose Code so much that I went in search of another book by Kate Quinn, and discovered her newest novel, The Diamond Eye. Set in Russia and based on a true story, the story centers around the life of Mila Pavlichenko, a single mother and history student who works in a library whose life is completely transformed when Hitler invades Russia. Having recently completed a marksman course, Mila signs up to defend her country, and her advanced marksmanship is noticed by her superiors, who train her to be a sniper. Mila goes on to become the most famous sniper in Russia, with over 300 Nazi kills, and the nickname Lady Death. Pulling her from the battlefield against her will, Russia sends her to the United States on a goodwill mission. Lonely and out of place so far from home, she finds an unexpected friend and ally in Eleanor Roosevelt, who turns out to be as grateful for Mila’s sniper skills as Mila is of her host’s warmth and generosity. Mila’s friendship with the First Lady proves to be invaluable to the Roosevelts, but it also makes Mila the obvious suspect when an attempt is made to assassinate the US president. This is a story about an individual’s capacity to transform themselves in order to survive and thrive, and the ways that one woman’s commitment, determination and loyalty shaped the course of history—for Russia and the whole world.
I would read this book with a cup of Russian Caravan, a blend of China’s pine-smoked Lapsang Souchong, Keemun China black tea and Taiwan’s bamboo-shaken oolong. Rich and earthy, I enjoy this tea most with a bit of honey and milk. I have chosen to pair this tea with this book because it got its name from the camel caravans that used to make their way from China to Moscow along the tea road, and I can imagine Mila sipping a steaming cup of this in one of the many Russian camps set up at the front line. I usually drink mine hot, but it is equally good poured over ice during the warmer months.
The Traitors’ Club is a memoir by Cypriot author Marina Christofides about a group of Cypriots who attended the English School (a private English-language high school located in Nicosia) together prior to the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974. The war resulted in the semi-permanent segregation of the Greek and Turkish-Cypriot communities on opposite sides of a political border that still exists today. In 2003 the border opened, allowing Cypriots living on both sides of the divide to cross and visit the other side of their island for the first time in 29 years. This story follows the experiences of a group of former classmates who had not seen each other since the invasion who set up a weekly coffee date on the north side of the capital after the border opened. It is filled with personal anecdotes and reflections about the author’s experience of growing up in Kyrenia—a city now located in the occupied north, and her life since becoming a refugee in her own country, as well as her attempts at finding a solution to the ‘Cyprus Problem.’ This narrative is woven together with the story of how the author’s lifelong friendships with those living on the ‘other’ side have helped her to see that no one side is to blame, that Cypriots living on opposite sides of the border are more alike than different, and that if Cypriots want a real, lasting solution to the ‘Cyprus Problem,’ responsibility must be accepted by everyone. I found the stories in this book deeply poignant and touching, and infused with just the right amount of typical Cypriot humour, which seems to be shared by those on both sides of the divide. Not only is this one of the best books I have ever read about the ‘Cyprus Problem,’ but it is also the most deeply human and hopeful. For anyone interested in learning more about the island of Cyprus, past and present, I would highly recommend this memoir.
This book is best enjoyed while sipping a tall icy glass of Willow’s Dream sweetened with a generous dollop of raw honey. A blend of black tea and organic lavender, I chose this tea to enjoy while reading The Traitors’ Club because on the surface it seems to be an odd, contradictory combination. We usually drink black tea to wake up and be stimulated, and lavender to calm down and relax the nervous system. But just like Greek and Turkish Cypriots who on the surface may seem to have opposing interests and backgrounds but create a wonderfully diverse and perfectly complementary community when they come together, Willow’s Dream is a perfect blend that will leave you feeling both uplifted and peaceful at the same time.
Small Wars is a novel about Hal Treherne, a Major in the British military who is stationed to Cyprus in the 1950s with his new wife Clara and their twin daughters. Initially the picture of a successful leader and loving and supportive, albeit not terribly communicative husband, Hal’s conscience as a man of honour slowly begins to cause conflict both at work and home as he witnesses more and more incidents in which the rights of England’s Cypriot subjects are blatantly violated, and reports of the abuses are covered up by his superiors. As the number and severity of the raids on Cypriot homes and communities intensifies and the retaliation attacks led by EOKA freedom fighters battling for freedom from British rule and union with Greece become more and more gruesome, Hal becomes increasingly horrified and traumatized by the brutality of the carnage being carried out by both sides. Coming from a military family where military service is considered an honour, his complete loss of belief in the system he has dedicated his life to and been appointed to lead causes him to spiral into an abyss of shame, which in turns makes him pull away from his wife and children, and to become violent himself—indulging in the very behaviour he has come to despise. To keep his wife and children safe from acts of retaliation by those fighting for freedom from British rule and his own uncontrollable and increasingly violent outbursts, he sends them away from the military base to live in the capital, only to discover that his decision actually thrusts his family further into the heart of the conflict. This book is about one man’s battle with his own conscience, the profound shame that society’s expectations of soldiers can cause, and the crippling impact that war and violence can have on intimate human relationships. It is also about staying true to yourself even when nobody else understands, and the resilience of deeply rooted love.
This book should be savoured while sipping a glass of Jasmine and Flowers, poured over ice. A smooth China green tea, the leaves are blended with Jasmine flowers, giving the liqueur a delicate floral finish. I paired it with this book because the overwhelmingly sweet scent of Jasmine nectar is one that I was inhaling while reading this story, and is also one that Hal and Clara would have experienced every spring while they were living in Cyprus. I’d like to think that the uplifting smell might have brought them some small pleasure and comfort despite the profound suffering they experienced while living on my beloved island.
These are my spring into summer tea and book pairings. Do you have any to add to my list? I’m always looking for new book recommendations. Take a moment to share yours in the comments section below!