Metin Murat’s page-turner debut novel is an ode to all the people of Cyprus and their culture. A self-declared work of fiction set against the historic and political realities of the last 80 years between his ancestral home of Turkish Cyprus and London.
The novel starts in 1930s Cyprus and Bamyakoy (based on the author’s ancestral village Balalan) in northern Cyprus. This impoverished country is a British colony bearing the scars of all the empires that came before.
Murat paints a traditional village; scenic, simple, agricultural, and steeped in a combination of Ottoman and Cypriot tradition. The legendary village crescent moon fox is ever-present, symbolic of the fate of Cypriot culture, and protector of the village, only visiting when the crescent moon is in the night sky.
Our story starts on an ominous night with the tale of Emine and the birth of her son Zeki (Turkish for ‘the intelligent one’). Born into misfortune and illiteracy, yet bright and eager to learn, Zeki finds a champion and sponsor in a newcomer to the village, Erol, a teacher with aspirations set beyond the constraints of Cypriot village life.
Emine’s best friend Zeynep is an abandoned bride at 13. A gifted homemaker and cook, Zeynep takes in Aydin (‘enlightened’ in Turkish) after his father Hasan had beaten him for the last time, Aydin’s nameless, otherised Palestinian mother is left to bear his wrath.
Zeynep teaches Aydin to make the finest bakalava pastry – so fine you can read a love letter through it! From humble beginnings, they start a business that will eventually take Aydin to Famagusta and beyond.
One day Zeynep comes home to find Aydin dressed in her clothes and wearing make-up. Knowing the price he’ll pay, she’s advises Aydin: “Oglum (my son) I don’t mind what you do or who you are, but others won’t’ understand. You must promise not to show yourself like this ever. Promise.”
We only ever see Aydin publicly show this side of his self for the greater good and with the most spectacular result.
Zeki excels in his studies and gains a place at the prestigious English School in Nicosia, unknowing that his schooling is being funded by his mother and sister. Although pursuing a different path, supported by Zeynep, Aydin’s baklava business is also flourishing.
At this time, we are introduced to Major Gamble, a British military man stationed on the island. It later becomes clear entrusting one’s future into the hands of this major is just that – a gamble! He sees Zeki as his personal project, destined for a great role in the future of Cyprus. A role which becomes a poison chalice.
Zeki goes on to win a university place at the London School of Economics and moves to London to live with Lady Monica – a friend of Major Gamble’s. The Major is priming him for a return to Cyprus, but Zeki has other plans.
Aydin, meanwhile, finds freedom and success with his baklava business in the town of Famagusta. He also finds love in the form of a Greek Cypriot boy called Tassos.
Discord strikes in Cyprus in the 1960s and, as intercommunal troubles rage, so the lives of our two protagonists are thrown into disarray. Allies and enemies come in many guises, and love from unexpected quarters.
The path and fate of our two protagonists makes for compelling reading and deserves to be widely read. Giving anymore of the plot away would ruin it for the reader, suffice to say London in 2005 offers us a restorative twist.
Metin Murat and his Greek Cypriot publisher Kris Konnaris of Armida Books should be celebrated for this brave collaboration, brought together through their shared love of the land and Cypriot culture.
At times, some of the fictional depictions in The Crescent Moon Fox do make for difficult reading, the blurring of good and evil a powerful reminding to the reader that there are no absolutes in conflict.
There are many readings of the message and warnings to Cypriots. Central to all is tolerance and the need for empathy – the pre-requisites for both communities.
While reconciliation may never be possible and returning to a time when all communities co-exist peacefully ‘side by side’ may be asking too much, acknowledgement and recognition of the past for both communities is the building block for peaceful co-existence.
Brave are the Turkish Cypriot writer and Greek Cypriot publisher prepared to take this important step in leading the call for acceptance and empathy.