Bitter Lemons

By Lawrence Durrell
Paperback: $12.00 • ISBN: 978-1-60419-004-5

“A superlative piece of travel writing. . . . Durrell…transforms the Cypriot landscape into a ‘sun-bruised’ demi-paradise.”

Time Magazine

“Lawrence Durrell’s Bitter Lemons is a rare and beautiful experience. . . .”

Cleveland Press

“A writer of exceptional gifts, abnormally high standards of style, and perceptions both powerful and delicate.”

—Gilbert Highet


In Bitter Lemons, Durrell tells the perceptive, often humorous, story of his experiences on Cyprus between 1953 and 1956—first as a visitor, then as a householder and teacher, and finally as Press Advisor to a government coping with armed rebellion. Here are unforgettable pictures of the sunlit villages and people, the ancient buildings, mountains and sea—and the somber political tragedy that finally engulfed the island.

About the Author

Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990) was born of British parents in India. He is best known as the author of The Alexandria Quartet, a series of four novels set in Egypt, but wrote many other novels, travel memoirs, poems, plays, and humorous sketches, and is widely regarded as one of the most dazzling writers of the 20th century. Bitter Lemons is among his masterpieces.


1: Towards an Eastern Landfall

2: A Geography Lesson

3: Voices at the Tavern Door

4: How to Buy a House

5: The Tree of Idleness

6: The Swallows Gather

7: A Telling of Omens

8: The Winds of Promise

9: The Satrap

10: Point of No Return

11: The Feast of Unreason

12: The Vanishing Landmarks

13: A Pocketful of Sand

Select Bibliography


From Chapter One: Towards an Eastern Landfall

Journeys, like artists, are born and not made. A thousand differing circumstances contribute to them, few of them willed or determined by the will—whatever we may think. They flower spontaneously out of the demands of our natures—and the best of them lead us not only outwards in space, but inwards as well. Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection. . . .

These thoughts belong to Venice at dawn, seen from the deck of the ship which is to carry me down through the islands to Cyprus; a Venice wobbling in a thousand fresh-water reflections cool as a jelly. It was as if some great master, stricken by dementia, had burst his whole color-box against the sky to deafen the inner eye of the world. Cloud and water mixed into each other, dripping with colors, merging, overlapping, liquefying, with steeples and balconies and roofs floating in space, like the fragments of some stained-glass window seen through a dozen veils of rice paper. Fragments of history touched with the colors of wine, tar, ochre, blood, fire-opal and ripening grain. The whole at the same time being rinsed softly back at the edges into a dawn sky as softly as circumspectly blue as a pigeon’s egg.

Mentally I held it all, softly as an abstract painting, cradling it in my thoughts—the whole encampment of cathedrals and palaces, against the sharply-focused face of Stendhal as he sits forever upon a stiff-backed chair at Florian’s sipping wine: or on that of a Corvo, flirting like some huge fruit-bat down these light-bewitched alleys. . . .

The pigeons swarm the belfries. I can hear their wings across the water like the beating of fans in a great summer ballroom, The vaporetto on the Grand Canal beats too, softly as a human pulse, faltering and renewing itself after every hesitation which marks a landing-stage. The glass palaces of the Doges are being pounded in a crystal mortar, strained through a prism. Venice will never be far from me in Cyprus—for the lion of Saint Mark still rides the humid airs of Famagusta, of Kyrenia.

It is an appropriate point of departure for the traveler

to the eastern Levant. . . .


From Chapter Two: A Geography Lesson

While I was finding my bearings and conducting an initial exploration I lodged with my friend Panos, a schoolmaster, in two small clean rooms overlooking the harbor of Kyrenia, the only port in Cyprus which— diminutive, cleanly colored, beautiful—has some of the true Cycladean allure. It is on the seaward side of the Kyrenia hills opposite the shaggy Turkish coastline whose mountains sink and rise out of the sea, dissolve and reappear with the transparent promise of a desert mirage.

Panos lived with his wife and two small sons in a house which must once have been part of the Church of Saint Michael the Archangel—up forty whitewashed steps, brilliant with sunshine, into a stone courtyard: the obvious site of the ancient acropolis of the town. The belfry of the church towered over us, its bell banging aggressively for every service, the lazy blue-and-white ensign of Greece softly treading the wind above the blue harbor.

The schoolmaster himself was very typical of Greek Cyprus—a round curly head, stocky body, with strong arms and legs; sleepy good-natured eyes. Through him I made my first acquaintance with the island temperament which is very different from the prevailing extrovert disposition of the metropolitan Greek. The styles of politeness were more formalized, I noticed, even between Cypriots. Forms of address were somewhat old-fashioned and lacking in spontaneity; there was a certain thoughtful reserve in conversation, a sense of measure. Hospitality was unobtrusive and shyly offered—as if the donor feared rebuff. Voices were lower and laughter set in a lower key. But the Greek Panos spoke was true Greek, with here and there an unfamiliar word from the patois of the island.

Every evening we took a glass of sweet, heavy Commanderia on his little terrace, before walking down the tiny winding lanes to the harbor in order to watch the sunset melt. Here by the lapping water I was formally and civilly introduced to his friends, the harbormaster, the bookseller, the grocer, who sat by the lapping water sipping ouzo and watching the light gradually fade over the stubby bastions of Kyrenia Castle, and the slender points of the Mosque. Within a week I had a dozen firm friends in the little town and began to understand the true meaning of Cypriot hospitality which is wrapped up in a single word—“Kopiaste” which roughly speaking means “sit down with us and share.” Impossible to pass a cafe, to exchange a greeting with anyone eating or drinking without having the word fired at one as if from the mouth of a gun. It became dangerous even to shout “Good appetite,” as one does in Greece, to a group of laborers working on the roads when one passed them at their lunch hour seated under an olive tree. At once a dozen voices would reply and a dozen hands would wave loaves or cans of wine. . . . After ten days of this I began to feel like a Strasbourg goose.