The mountains couldn’t walk away
If only the mountains could have walked away, Andrea, if only. If only they had picked themselves up and treaded over the invading Turks on that dark night in Cyprus in 1974. Instead, to this day, they are a constant reminder of what we lost with the Turkish flag carved and painted on the soil and the words: ‘Proud to be a Turk’. The mountains are a daily slap in the face to any Greek-Cypriot driving towards the divided Nicossia. Because my parents were born in the now unoccupied south of Cyprus, I was never told firsthand what it was like to flee the north – well, that is, not until Andrea’s poetry spoke to me.
The mountains couldn’t walk away was first launched in Europe in 2006 where it received positive reviews and publicity. The Melbourne publication, launched this week by Christos Tsiolkas, Arnold Zable and Tim Colebatch, was one of celebration, but more importantly, one of seriousness.
Fortyfivedownstairs was set up like a small amphitheatre – there were more people there than any other book launch I’ve attended. I think that’s because Andrea’s book is one of significance, for Greeks, Cypriots, refugees – for Cyprus. When the higher powers of the world take control and commit injustice, from underground the arts will rise and make a statement, and this is what Andrea’s book does successfully. We will not be silenced, we will be heard. ‘My book is a protest against the injustices my island suffered and the indifference of the international community,’ she said.
Each of the launchers read some of Andrea’s poetry; it was haunting to say the least. ‘Without memory there is no hope,’ Christos said before his reading. ‘These are poems that give us hope.’ When speaking of Andrea’s poetry he said, ‘it is full of life and inevitably, full of shadows.’ Christos spoke of refugees who arrived years ago, but more crucially, of refugees arriving in Australia today, and their detainment in Australia. ‘The refugee voice is an important voice,’ he said. Arnold continued from this, speaking of young children suffering in detention centres. Refugees and migrants, he said, have a before and after life. They belong in a place in the before life, then almost overnight there is an abrupt change…and you can never go back home. ‘The after life is lived in the shadows of the before,’ he said, speaking of nostalgia, something he is passionate about in his writing. Nostalgia is a longing for the past, he explained, it is the pain of longing for the return. It is not sentimentality, it should not be mistaken for sentimentality – nostalgia is an aching and longing for a place, it is a lament, a wailing, a cry, and we hear this cry, we feel this cry, in Andrea’s poetry.
I couldn’t agree more. The reading of Andrea’s poetry had tears stinging my eyes, it had goosebumps erupting over my flesh. Written from the perspective of an eight-year-old girl fleeing her home, and also from the perspective of an adult looking back, Andrea’s poetry is haunting. Her poems scream the pain, loss and suffering of the refugee; they engage the reader in the devastation and unjustness of Cyprus. Their simplicity and clarity place the reader firmly in Andrea’s shoes, in a child’s shoes and they place the reader in Cyprus, fleeing in terror. Her use of imagery is clear and evocative, invoking sadness and despair in the reader – she has the reader panging with her nostalgia. Andrea’s voice is a new, refreshing and powerful voice in Australian Literature, one welcomed with open arms. The last launcher of the night, Tim, had this to say: ‘These poems are a record of the feelings of the first generation, the ones who lost Cyprus…The question is, do future generations still feel this pain?’
My answer to that question Tim is yes, they do, they painfully, undoubtedly, and achingly do, and always will.
The mountains couldn’t walk away is available at Readings bookshops.