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Ledra Street 

Nora Nadjarian

There was a time when Ledra street was whole, non-pedestrianised, and we still called Turkish coffee, Turkish. But that was a long time ago."

Reviewed by Elizabeth Rutherford-Johnson

This jewel of a collection is firmly located in the author's native Cyprus and, more specifically, in Nicosia, “the last divided capital in the world”. Yet as well as a vividly realised sense of place, Nadjarian brings the weight of history, both recent and ancient, to bear on her writing. These stories are political without being polemical; they observe without pretending to know a solution. 

In the title story the narrator dwells on her involvement in the small tragedy of a coffee shop owner's death, which is cast against the larger political backdrop of the division of Nicosia in the 1960s. “Behind a wall, behind a checkpoint, looking for my father's shop, looking for my childhood, dismissing a man's death, mourning the division of a city. Counting the steps to the other side. Wondering where unimportance ends and importance begins.” Unpacking her family's history and the impact of the city's division on it, the narrator imagines the dead man's lover searching for him on the night he died, leaving the reader with a tale of loss and missed connections. 

Nadjarian has a poet's love of language, a playful exuberance at the possibilities of form. In Veronica Ha Ha Ha the laughter of the dead Veronica, whose mirth is “a shiny mask to hide the darkness beneath”, almost becomes a character itself. “And Veronica would laugh. Very, very Onica. Veronique. Nique. Nica.” In the single sentence Amour fou, words and meanings tumble against one another to create a compelling fever dream of desire. 

The collection packs in 35 stories and if I have a criticism it is that perhaps one can feel overwhelmed by all the different voices; however, this is perhaps a symptom of Nadjarian's success. These voices do not blend into one harmonious, tedious whole, but remain distinct, jaggedly individual: an old man dreading a reconciliation with his estranged son (A Man of Principle), a nameless refugee who sells wristbands “two for a euro, to strange white people in cafes” (Papers) and even Aphrodite, goddess of love (Mediterranean Blue). And this slight edginess and complete lack of a comfort zone in which to relax sums up the collection for me. Nadjarian makes her readers work hard, and this reader appreciated the workout. Certainly there is little danger of complacency, as Nadjarian whisks readers from political satire – The Cyprus Problem is a deliciously withering snapshot of politicians solving nothing – to an almost fairytale – Spoon Sweet is a tiny, perfectly formed love story, which shows the possibility of a meeting of minds, of happiness instead of distress and decay. 

My personal favourite was Dinner Party. A longer piece by the standards of the collection, it is tricky and beguiling, swimming in and out of the consciousness of three of the four characters on a warm April evening where the air “is like an invisible hand made of silk”. It's not an easy read, but the unusual third person address - “they will think back to what was eaten, what was drunk, said, try to remember who said what, in what order.” - gives a sense of fatalism to Helen's upset edginess and lends magic to the moment of suspended time when she kisses her best friend's husband, “an affair has begun”. 

If there is something to be taken out of Ledra Street it is that there is always more than one way to tell a story and that there are never, ever easy answers. It brings Cyprus to life in all its complications and contradictions and deserves to be read far beyond those Mediterranean shores.

Read one of the stories from this collection on X.com.

Elizabeth Rutherford-Johnson lives in London, where she is trying to find a balance between writing, motherhood and having a life. Her short fiction has appeared in Mslexia, LITRO, The New Writer and www.pulp.net, among others.

Elizabeth's other Short Reviews: Andrzej Stasiuk "Tales of Galicia"   

Michael Chabon (ed) "McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories"

Sylvia Petter "Back Burning"

"Best American Short Stories 2007"

Tom Bissell "God Lives in St Petersburg"



Publication Date: 2006

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Author bio: Born in Limassol, Cyprus, Nora Nadjarian  is an award-winning poet with three published collections. This is her first collection of short stories.

Read an interview with Nora Nadjarian

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Author's recommended bookseller: Moufflon

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