By Heidi Trautmann
On 29 November the Turkish translation of Niki Marangou’s book was launched at the Naci Talat Peace and Guest House in Nicosia, the very first Turkish edition of a book written by a Greek Cypriot author. Many guests and media people had come to commemorate this very special moment. Nehide Merlen of Işik Bookstore welcomed the guests, Gür Genç Korkmazel, poet, speaking for the North Cypriot artists’ and writers association the president of which is well known poet Neşe Yaşin. Nazif Bozatli, the translator of the book, spoke of his experience during the period of translation and more than once I saw a smile dance around his mouth. In the first row, close to me, sat Harid Fedai, a well known writer and researcher, translator of old Ottoman scripts and a friend, and we were all very glad to see him back in good health. He voice was strong and lively when he made his comments.
Niki Marangou spoke about how she commenced this journey of retracing her father’s life and I repeat here my talks with her before her book launch:
“There is a space closed to you most of the time for so many years of your childhood, your young years, occasional glimpses though, remarks between adults dropped, photos in many albums, the space being the past of my parents.”
One day Niki Marangou decided to undertake her journey into the past of her parents, to see with her own eyes and to fill the gaps of her memories, to learn about the missing parts of the puzzle.
George was only ten years old when, in the barber shop of Antonis Hadjipieris, he heard that a doctor from Vienna had operated on King Constantine and removed one of his ribs. Venizelos read the news out loud from the “Voice of Cyprus”, the island’s only newspaper which was printed every Saturday and arrived late by train from Nicosia…..The very next morning George attempted to remove the rib of one of the hens which they kept in their backyard….It was from that moment on, however, that he decided to become a doctor and to study in Vienna.
This was one puzzle stone, and from here Niki Marangou retraced her father’s road of life starting from Famagusta via Athens, Vienna, Limassol including her mother’s episode in Alexandria in the Greek Alexandrian society. Her father left home in Famagusta in 1920 for Vienna and returned to Cyprus in 1940 as one of the first European trained doctors.
Niki has travelled to the places where her father has studied, lived and worked, just to smell the air, to walk through the streets he has walked with pretty ladies, to the house where he had his room with an old lady, the café house, where he used to drink the famous Viennese coffee, but also to relive the time of the slowly growing political upheavals in one of the most beautiful European cities; How did he cope with the situation in those hard times between the two world wars, who were the persons he had met, famous medicine specialists, people of society.
One morning as he was going up the Ringstrasse he came across a demonstration with people holding red flags, socialists with their red flags and Christian Democrats with their black flags reflecting the turmoil that followed the (first) war.
And in 1931, after he had graduated: The political situation was getting worse and worse. Both the socialists and the nationalists were making their presence felt…..When the German troops entered Austria in March 1938…..
A time of great anxiety for Dr. George until he decided to go home. The situation he found in the Limassol clinic was desperate, he tried to change things….and he did.
“You cannot write about things you don’t know the smell and taste of”, says Niki Marangou, “you cannot describe the atmosphere if you don’t give yourself up to it, and sometimes it is my own idea of how it could have been while I am standing in front of a place my father has told me about. My interpretation, yes, but how should I not know what his thoughts were, I am his daughter.”
Niki Marangou’s mother, Katie, as she is called in the book, comes from Kozani in Western Macedonia, where time has stood still for a long time; when Niki traveled there as a young girl she still experienced the values of that old world, where material was still woven at home, where the bread was made in wood burning ovens, and people fed from what they grew in the fields.
These two people, Katie and George, will meet to become her parents. A while her mother worked as a nurse in Alexandria.
Niki went there many times and fell in love with the place, she sat in cafés in the old city and she produced water colour paintings. She got the feeling for the place which has become so famous by writers who have lived there or traveled through. She saw her mother between the walls of it, in the plush coffee houses, working as a nurse in hospital, moving within the Greek Alexandrian Society and getting involved with the history of the country.
Worlds with different cultures, people who wandered between them and added to their cosmopolite character over the centuries, an idea which stimulated Niki Marangou to write down the life story of her family.
“It is a fascinating but also sad thought, that we are the last generation to bear in us the knowledge of the two worlds, the homespun one of my mother’s towards high technology of our younger generation. But, we are the ones who carry in us the smell of both worlds; the younger generations can only read about it.” That is so true, I say.
I would like to end my review with one of her poems which has nothing to do with the book directly but shows the way Niki Marangou follows up an article she has read, here about the old rituals of baking bread in Cyprus:
I think of the women who awoke
With the morning star to knead bread
The Christians with sourdough, made
With blessed water from the fest of the Cross
And the Turks with water from the first rains.
Both carried their babies on their backs
And the knowledge about the sanctity of life.
Their men sometimes forgot about that.
Translated by Xenia Andreou
The book “From Famagusta to Vienna” is available in
Please visit also her website www.marangou.com