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Closed Doors: An Answer to Bitter Lemons by Lawrence Durrell (review)
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Reviewed by
Costas Montis. Closed Doors: An Answer to Bitter Lemons by Lawrence Durrell. David Roessel and Soterios G. Stavrou, translators. Minneapolis, MN: Nostos. 2004. Pp. xvi + 23. $30.00.

The subtitle of Costas Montis's Closed Doors makes its purpose clear: it is An Answer to Bitter Lemons by Lawrence Durrell. In that regard alone, this translation by Soterios G. Stavrou and David Roessel rightfully responds to a question the English canon may not have known it asked. But Montis's text also deserves further consideration, and Roessel's introduction offers a fitting context for an important work of Cypriot literature to an English-speaking audience. Although it functions on levels beyond those it is willing to claim, this recent publication beyond the linguistic and littoral boundaries of Cyprus offers a crucial response to earlier British impressions of the "troubles" of 1955–1959, once more opening the monologue to a critical dialogue for new readers. A discursive study dressed in the trappings of a novel, this volume is an appropriate answer to Durrell's Bitter Lemons dressed in the trappings of a memoir, but it is much more than that.

The volume is compact, with narrow margins and a sturdy dust jacket. Helpful accompanying notes follow the text, referencing by page number the terms and ideas explained (pp. 119–122). Roessel's introduction goes further, situating historical events while also providing details of other literary works, Montis's biography, and Montis's other output, suggesting strands leading to potential modes of understanding Closed Doors without limiting the text to a particular [End Page 191] interpretation (pp. ix–xvi). As this edition is notable for being the first English translation published, Roessel's introduction is most useful for the insights he offers Anglophonic readers into this potentially inaccessible oeuvre, making connections between Montis's poetry and this book. The charitable introductory and explanatory notes make the text accessible for any reader; nevertheless, it will also likely attract a readership interested in the sub-titular connection to Durrell's well-known work, and for these readers the text is equally serviceable.

As Roessel notes, Durrell disingenuously presents his Bitter Lemons as an apolitical memoir. Doing so grants Durrell the luxury of one who can afford a removed perspective: Durrell's narrator is neither British nor Cypriot, Greek nor Turkish, informed nor invested. Like a lizard shedding its tail in the face of danger, he evades personal details by shifting focus in the text; for example, by swimming in the ocean, remodeling his house, or gathering flowers. These inclusions shade the very real political choices he makes in the work, describing the land, the people, and the customs of Cyprus in line with British foreign policy of the time. Montis, on the other hand, is unapologetically political, offering one perspective of one Greek Cypriot. The stylistic choices of the work, nevertheless, emphasize the difficulties of continuity and agreement with this singular perspective.

Montis's work is narrated by a "carefree" 15-year-old with that age's "romantic outlook, its deepening of the voice, its stirrings of new desires, and its joys and sorrows" (p. 3). Fittingly, the voice of these joys and sorrows is punctuated by parenthetical asides admitting to its uncertainty: "(do you suspect now an inconsistency in each phrase? very well, then, expect an inconsistency)" (p. 4). The device is wearisome at first, but with time the inconsistencies perform a counterpoint of dialogue within the work itself. When the two voices speak together—"Although without parentheses (are you tired of them?) we are still at the beginning of the struggle (I don't know if I have confused you) . . ." (p. 33)—the text is richly convincing, limning the hesitancies of memory and youth, and later multiple nested asides further complicate already complicated matters (p. 51).

The narrative speaks of early excitement over the enterprise of bombs and the disruption of normalcy as fighting breaks out (p. 19). Its contours are shaped by the very personal reaction of one family, with all its anxieties and sibling rivalries, but these are unique to time and place. One son is injured (p. 41), chased into hiding (p. 64), and...