LISTED FOR THE EUROPEAN BOOK PRIZE 2016
An epic story spanning the ages from the time of Richard the Lionheart and the Third Crusade to modern day Cyprus, reincarnation, history, love, and mystery collide.
Author: Lina Ellina more info
LISTED FOR THE EUROPEAN BOOK PRIZE 2016
A crusader. A riddle. A ring.
Justin needs to spend three consecutive months in his deceased father’s estate on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus — where he must solve a riddle to claim an extravagant inheritance, rich with history — and gold.
Unexpected help comes from a woman named Zoe who may hold a clue to Justin’s own mysterious past — though neither of them fully know the stakes of her involvement. Unbeknownst to the two lovers, someone else is trying to solve the riddle for his own benefit.
In an epic story spanning the ages from the time of Richard the Lionheart and the Third Crusade, to modern day Cyprus, reincarnation, history, love, and mystery collide.
Tags: Cyprus travel, family history genealogy, Historical Fiction, Jerusalem, mystery and detective, Richard the Lionheart, Third Crusade, time travel historical romance fiction kindle, women sleuths, women's fiction
The English Scholar’s Ring has been LISTED for the EUROPEAN BOOK PRIZE 2016
From the Author who brought you
a novel also LISTED FOR THE EUROPEAN BOOK PRIZE 2012
——–Read an Excerpt
By Dr. Maria Hadjipolycarpou, Columbia University
Postcolonial authors who write in English, such as, V.S. Naipaul (Trinidad), Salman Rushdie (India), Derek Walcott (Saint Lucia), Chinua Achebe (Nigeria), Wole Soyinka (Nigeria), some of whom are Nobel laureates, gained the attention of global audiences by exposing the dark side of their nation’s colonial history—the exploitation of natural resources, the oppression and enslavement of the people, including indentured labor and forced migration. But most importantly they became known for examining the complex problems about their national history and identity, which their respective nations faced after independence. Cypriot writers, or writers of Cypriot descent who live abroad, have yet to see their work acknowledged by the global literary world. There are various reasons for this situation, but the most likely explanation is that Cypriot scholars, novelists and poets usually write in either Greek or Turkish.
But the fact that Lina Ellina’s novel, The English Scholar’s Ring, is written in English is, the least significant reason it receives attention in the outside world in general and in postcolonial studies in particular.
Cyprus remains to this day a partitioned state, an aftereffect of British colonialism and of the nationalistic struggle between Turkish and Greek Cypriots that followed. British colonialism in Cyprus (1878-1960) and its legacy influenced the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus in ways both seen and unseen. In this context I will point out that the constitution mandated that the population be divided into Greek Cypriots who represented the Christian majority and the Turkish Cypriots who represented the Muslim minority. This distinction came to represent two opposing nationalisms on the island and over time this become increasingly significant politically.
In the words of Edward Said, who pioneered the study of colonialism through the study of literature, “The western gaze remain[ed] blinded to other histories and cultures or aspirations” (Said 1994, xviii). Colonizers often depicted their colonial subjects as existing “outside of history” in societies unable to progress without the assistance of those already “civilized,” the Europeans.
In the 19th century, for example, Western travelers either dismissed native Cypriots as menial laborers or uncivilized peasants (some of whom were acknowledged as paying taxes to their colonial overlords). The British historian William Hepworth Dixon (1821-1879) described the Cypriots as “creatures of the lower types, clinging to life for life’s own sake … holding on by simple animal tenacity through tempests which have wrecked the nobler of races” (Dixon 1879, 28).
These depictions represented the broader context within which Western colonials viewed the people in their colonies. As Said wrote, the Westerners, “seem[ed] at liberty to visit their fantasies and philanthropies upon a mind-deadened Third World” (Said 1994, xix).
Sir George Hill (1867–1948), the first historiographer of modern Cyprus wrote:
Cyprus has had no continuous history of its own . . . . [Its history is chiefly a] reflection from the activities of great powers which from age to age have found it necessary to deal with it on their way to some more important objective [elsewhere]. (Hill 1940, iv)
Having borne witness to layers upon layers of imperial exchanges, the Cypriot population has felt almost like guests in the historical narrative of their own nation. Oftentimes echoing aspects of the colonial past, the national Cypriot historiography has been absorbed, added onto or, even worse, enmeshed in the history of various empires.
As a country with no history of its own, Cyprus became a tabula rasa so to speak, a void, onto which the western imagination projected its own imaginary: of the island as a crossroad between East and West, strategically located on ancient trade routes in the Mediterranean sea.
With her novel, The English Scholar’s Ring, Lina Ellina revisits Cyprus in the 12th century, during the short period (May and June of 1191) during which Richard I of England stopped in Limassol, on the southeast cost of Cyprus, on his way to the Crusades in the Holy Land. Ellina adopts the historical lens of the middle ages to point out similarities between Cyprus and Jerusalem, as both are emblematic buffer-zones between East and West. Unearthing the historical experience of empire, Ellina invites the reader to contemplate the relationship between the two countries in an attempt to discover what the peoples of England and Cyprus, who partake in hegemonic environments, share as human beings. In so doing she debunks the imaginaries, and re-negotiates history from the perspective of those who lived through it, outsiders and insiders, English and Cypriots alike. In the place of history from the perspective of empire, she presents history from the point of view of the local people suffering under the oppression of rulers, both domestic and foreign.
As she de-emphasizes the West’s “fantasies and philanthropies” about Cyprus and Jerusalem on the one hand and England, as a symbol of empire, on the other, Ellina explores the uncomfortable truce between conqueror and conquered, in the form of a romance between an English scholar, Alan, who accompanies the fleet of Richard I, and a Cypriot woman, Irene. The two share similar aspirations. They love knowledge. They are free spirited idealists who oppose war. They believe that life (and their lives in particular) should be decided by them and not their cultures and be based on the freedom of choice. Ellina’s novel acknowledges that historical realities and long-standing animosities are not irrelevant to her story. But she also makes clear that if we understand history as being a fixed chronology and an unbreakable link with the past, it becomes burdensome, inescapable, nightmarish.
As a way of providing continuity between past and present, Ellina creates a modern-day interlocutor for Alan in the form of Tom Scott, a 21st-century archaeologist who leads an expedition in Cyprus. By moving back and forth between 1191 and 2010 Ellina escapes from a stagnant textbook version of medieval times. She demythologizes the past, introduces everyday stories and details that transform it into an allegory about the human condition and brings it to life, thus broadening our scope about what history really is. As the story unfolds, the reader becomes an active participant, absorbed in the process of historical exploration and the making of historical connections.
After his death we learn that, Tom Scott wrote a will naming his son, Justin, and his step-daughter, Zoe, as beneficiaries. But before receiving their inheritance Justin and Zoe must solve Tom’s riddle–“Traders sat in its shade, hence the bridge name”–which will lead them to a discovery about Tom’s previous life and the connection between him and Justin and Zoe to Alan and Irene. The riddle drives Justin’s and Zoe’s romance who fall in love. Through this plot development the novel makes an intervention. It encourages the reader to exit his/her passive role and become a detective and help to solve the riddle. By engaging in this process, the reader simultaneously joins the quest and becomes a link connecting the 12th century and the 21st.
Ellina’s novel transforms history into a living space which is not fixed but fluid and open to negotiation, a place where relationships can cross the boundaries of time, culture, gender and class. Her history-as-novel preserves poetic and literary characteristics as integral to the historical process. And even though it is seemingly driven by men, the narrative is pushed forward by women. Irene, a feminist avant la lettre, is a woman with an inquisitive mind, who recognizes that marriage may put an end to her fascination with learning. And Zoe, who leaves Cyprus for New York to become a photographer does not necessarily wish to have a family. Her work fulfills her.
Ellina’s novel is written from the perspective of those who had not been allowed a share in their own nation’s history. Surely the riddle in The English Scholar’s Ring has many symbolic meanings—and one of them must be that, in order to take part in the narratives of their national lives and unlock the riddles of their history, they must look to their own personal histories which are inextricably linked to the narrative of the history of their country.
Dr. Maria Hadjipolycarpou, Columbia University
New York, 2014
Hepworth, W, Dixon. 1897. British Cyprus. London: Chapman and Hall.
Hill, George. 1940. A History of Cyprus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Said, Edward. 1994. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books.
Chapter 1 – 11974
Tom Scott pulled out his Louis XV armchair and sat back heavily in it. He reached into the top left drawer of his mahogany desk and took out a little rosewood box. He opened it gently and removed the priceless ring from its vermilion velvet bed. He had restored it himself, aware that entrusting it to anyone else was simply out of the question. No one would ever believe the story of how he came by it or why it was impossible for him to part with it.
He lifted his gaze to the snowflakes falling softly on the red-tiled rooftops of Platres, a village nestled in the southern slopes of the Troodos Mountains, the first snow of the season. He glanced at the three words on the sheet of paper in front of him for the hundredth time and tapped his pen against the letter to his son. It would be Christmas soon, and Tom pined for his five-year old Justin immensely. He knew this was the price he had to pay, but he refused to ever give up hope. He cast a perfunctory glance at the crackling firewood in the corner of his living room; the flames licking the air, scarlet and gold.
He’d been struggling with the letter for more than an agonizing hour, yet he only got as far as ‘My dearest Justin’. He felt a sudden pain in his chest, where his birthmark was, right above his heart, but it eased quickly. He let out a defeated sigh and slid his fingers over his carved initials on the fountain pen, her last gift to him. He dried his palms on his brown corduroy trousers. How could he make little Justin comprehend concepts that even he was finding hard to grasp, let alone accept? He shook his head. If only Justin would come to the phone when he called! Not that he blamed him. The boy was hurting, and it was unequivocally Tom’s fault. No doubt about that.
Snuggled in the high-backed couch, little Zoe kicked the blanket in her sleep. Tom got up and covered her again. The worry line on his face softened as he caressed her rich curls. He glanced up at the photo of the beautiful young woman with the long dark hair, smiling at him from the mantelpiece, a pained grimace spreading across his face. He sat on the couch next to Zoe and rested his head in his hands. His thoughts crowded in his head; he felt so tired, so clueless.
Tom was not a religious man, yet he prayed for wisdom all the same. His in-laws were begging him to relinquish custody of Justin, or they were determined to sue him for desertion. His letters to Liz, his wife, about his not coming home because of an affair were more than adequate evidence, their lawyer had explained. If Tom were to stay in Cyprus, he’d eventually lose Justin. If he were to go back, he’d lose Zoe. At least Justin had his grandparents. Zoe had only him.
He rose to his feet again, walked to the globe liquor cabinet, and poured himself a measure of Hennessy XO. He slammed back his drink and blinked as the cognac hit the back of his throat. He closed his eyes for a moment, letting the familiar heat inside relax him. He poured himself another and padded back to his desk.
He sat at the desk by the bookcase, its shelves filled to bursting. He pressed the tips of his fingers together in a little steeple and brought them to his lips. He reminisced how it all started back in June of 1973. He’d just defended his dissertation when his application to join the excavations at Salamis was approved. He’d spotted an opening in the Bulletin of the Society of Historical Archaeology several weeks before. As a student, he’d done some fieldwork but nothing as important as that. It was a career opportunity, and Liz had been sympathetic about his joining the project on a one-year contract but adamant about not relocating. Too much fuss for such a short time and with a four-year old, she’d said. Besides, Tom would be home for Christmas. Time would fly.
Tom closed his eyes, and he was transferred to Salamis in September of 1973. The archaeological site by the bay at the mouth of the Pedieos River, a natural harbor, was protected by tall sand dunes, thick acacia, and a eucalyptus forest. On his first day on the site, Tom showed his credentials to the guard at the gate and was instructed to report to Dr. Karageorghis in the large tent.
He walked in that direction, past the ancient gymnasium and the theater, wondering if that was the same path Paul, the Apostle, had taken when he went to preach in the synagogues. He glanced around at the site with great curiosity. Teams of archeologists and volunteers were busy carrying away deposits lifted by trowel in buckets and wheel barrows. Excavation had started in the opulent Hellenistic capital two decades before, and it seemed as if it could go on for two more.
He felt he was embarking on a new chapter in his life as he reached the tent opening.
“Dr. Karageorghis?” he asked the callipygian woman with the shapely buttocks and long dark hair, clad in a white blouse and khaki bellbottoms. She was bending over a table with her back to him, carefully brushing the dirt off some fragments and reconstructing the shape of a red-clay jug.
“He’s not here,” she said without lifting her head up.
Tom stood undecided for a moment, rubbing his neck, unable to tear his gaze away from her pants. “Do you by any chance know where I could find him? This is my first day on the site and I…”
The woman turned around unexpectedly and Tom felt flushed. Had she caught his eyes on her backside? Her rich dark curls tumbled around her winsome face. Her hazel eyes with flecks of emerald focused on his face and seemed to penetrate his mind and soul, Tom thought, gasping for air. He stared at her slim, straight nose, high cheekbones, and full lips. He opened his mouth, but no words came out.
“And you’re lost,” she said in a low-pitched voice, flashing a warm smile at him.
Tom was awestruck and weak at the knees. She was a ravishing beauty with a hypnotic, siren’s voice and a warm smile, but there was more than that. He had this intense impression he’d made love to her before, but that was not possible! She had a mole on her right buttock, he thought. Now, how did he know that?
“Have we… met before?” he ventured.
“Does this usually work for you?” she quipped. Tom felt even more confounded, pitifully aware he was gaping.
“I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to… I just… Never mind…” They’d got off to a bad start, he realized dejectedly. He darted his glance at his dusty shoes and shoved his hands into his pockets. “If you could just tell me where I can find Dr. Karageorghis…”
He glanced up at her and saw her perusing him.
“Perhaps we have,” she was saying now; her eyes half closed, her chin lifted, head tilted to the right, jogging her memory.
“Can we start over? My name’s Scott, Tom Scott.” He stretched out his arm.
She shook his hand, and Tom felt a tingling.
“I’m Angelica Antoniou.”
Angelica! The name suited her perfectly, Tom thought. Everything about her seemed angelic.
Tom had led a rather monotonous marital life. He’d married sweet, fragile Liz because it was the honorable thing to do when he got her pregnant. Although he sometimes wondered how that was possible when she swore she’d been on the pill. He was an undergraduate student when they first met. She was a first-year English Literature student who seemed to find everything about him exciting – until they got married.
Liz dropped out of college because of morning sickness and wouldn’t go back, despite Tom’s encouragement, so she could raise Justin. Tom never quite shook off the suspicion that Liz had enrolled in order to find a ‘good’ husband, though he never voiced that thought.
The more time went by, the more Tom, always thirsty for knowledge, realized how different he was from Liz, complacent in her role as mother and housewife. Nonetheless, he was resolved to honor his vows. He made a rule to call and write home regularly and an effort to stay away from Angelica, but that soon became impractical. He was placed on the same team as her, along with Dr. Louise Duponet, Professor Richard Harrington, Francis Crosby, and Andy Stephanou. Andy, the photographer on site, was not a member of the team per se, but he spent a lot of time with them, mostly with Louise, and soon became Tom’s best friend.
Tom was exhilarated by this new experience of bringing history to life at Salamis. There was so much to do and hardly ever enough time. Days just flew by. At nights, however, her image would appear uninvited. He felt beleaguered by the magnetic attraction he felt for her. Especially on days when her curls might brush against his arm, or their hands might touch casually, he’d stay awake, yearning for her. He felt like he was falling into a void, and there was no way out. It was unlike any other experience he’d had so far, as if they were kindred spirits, soul mates.
It was a beautiful, halcyon Friday in mid-January when Andy suggested the four of them go on a weekend trip and asked if they had a preference. Louise was excited but didn’t much care where they’d go. Tom and Angelica cried out ‘Kourion’ in unison and turned and faced each other in astonishment. Andy and Louise looked at them with raised eyebrows, and Louise asked if they’d talked about it before, but they hadn’t. It was an inexplicable, compelling desire to visit the place.
Come Saturday morning, they set off. Half an hour after a quick stop at the recent excavations at Amathus, Andy’s white Morris Mini-Minor was straining up the Mount of Kourion, seat of the ancient city-kingdom, some four kilometers southwest of Episkopi in the Limassol district.
The foursome headed first toward the Complex of Eustolios. They gazed at the breathtaking panoramic view of the ancient site, perched high above green hills, overlooking the Mediterranean.
Instantly, Tom felt consumed by an overwhelming sensation. And so did Angelica. They walked on the wooden bridge over the newly restored mosaics of the complex, but that was not what had caused the sensation.
As though in a trance, Tom wandered in the Roman House of the Gladiators to the east of the House of Achilles, and his legs felt stiff, like he’d been riding all day. He was wary and fatigued for no apparent reason, but it wasn’t until they reached the theater that he gasped for air. He heard Andy’s voice, explaining that it seats some two thousand spectators, as if coming from afar. When they walked around the theater and reached a narrow entrance to the area where gladiators prepared for battle, the mixture of their adrenaline and agony covered him like a blanket. Tom stood breathless, utterly transfixed; the air was filled with tension, as if his own life were threatened.
To this day, he had no idea how much time had transpired in this emotional turmoil. He somehow knew he’d been there before – with Angelica! He kept these thoughts to himself for the moment, cognizant of how incongruous they’d sound.
Did she experience it, too?
A look at her bemused face sufficed; she’d turned reticent. Andy had been too engrossed immortalizing Louise, who enjoyed posing playfully for the camera, paying little attention to his companions. Tom could feel Angelica’s inquisitive gaze, but he had no answers, only questions.
The four friends reached the stone-built farmhouse with the tilted wooden roof where they rented rooms for the night. It was run by Michael and Myrianthi, a friendly middle-aged couple who returned to Cyprus after working in Manchester for years, he as a barber and she as a seamstress in a clothing factory; like so many other Cypriots, British subjects until the late fifties, seeking a way out of poverty.
Michael showed them to their rooms at the far side of the neatly-kept inner courtyard, with an array of geraniums in all possible colors, offered them a basket with oranges he’d picked that morning from his grove, and let them unpack. Dinner would be ready at seven; rabbit stew in wine sauce, his wife’s speciality.
Before they disappeared into their rooms, Angelica suggested a walk along the Kouris River. Andy and Louise shook their heads. They preferred to rest and headed upstairs. Angelica turned and faced Tom.
He knew he should decline politely. He knew it was unwise to be left alone with her, but the sensation at the ancient theater had been too intense to ignore, and she’d felt it, too. They had to talk about it. It drove him crazy. She drove him crazy. He heard himself accept and intuited instantly that it was the point of no return.
They took to walking along the Kouris silently, immersed in their private thoughts. As they moved away from the village, the landscape of low vegetation changed to tall trees. Tom glanced over his shoulder at the village that sat in the middle of its ploughed fields. In the undisturbed serenity of the environs, they felt cut off from the rest of the world.
Suddenly, Angelica stopped walking, drew him close to her, pressing her breasts against his chest. She cupped his neck and teased the outline of his lips with her tongue. Instinctively, Tom knitted his hands in her thick curls, his lips roaming over the smooth skin on the side of her neck, and he felt her shudder in his arms.
They made love hastily, hungrily, under the trees, with the desperation of lovers finally reuniting after a long separation. They knew exactly where to stroke and kiss one another, how to please most, as in a ritual. Their ardent touching became gentler and more affectionate, as they joined over and again, until there was no strength left in them. They lay down, cuddled in each other’s embrace. Tom had never experienced anything like it, yet somehow, it was all too familiar. She was familiar. There was even a mole on her right buttock! Life suddenly had a new meaning with her by his side, even though he still had more questions than answers. But he was now convinced that he belonged with her.
Despite the weekend’s exaltation, back in his apartment in Famagusta, Tom felt remorse. He’d never quite pictured himself as an adulterer, and it didn’t go down well with him. He felt torn between moral duty and … destiny. He knew he couldn’t stay away from Angelica, but how could he leave Liz and Justin? The next couple of months went by quickly, and as his contract was set to expire, Tom became more and more restless.
And then one day, Roger Gordon, an old friend from college, now a guest speaker at a conference on the island, looked him up. To the tunes of the eight-member band at the imposing Salamis Bay Hotel, Tom found out that Gordon was specializing in hypnosis as a means to help his patients overcome their phobias, for he believed they could be part of unresolved issues from past lives. Over drinks, he elaborated on the Hindu philosophy of transmigration and the ancient Greek theory of metempsychosis and gave Tom various examples from the Bible that would explain why God’s punishment sometimes seems excessive. He even went on to describe reincarnation as a form of cosmic justice that rewards or punishes one’s deeds and thoughts in future lives and explains the inequalities among people.
Had Tom had this conversation before his trip to Cyprus, he’d have probably abjured the notion as absurd, but now he couldn’t help wondering if this was the answer to his nerve-racking questions. If reincarnation was real, whom was justice for, Tom wondered? Was it for the man he’d been with Angelica, or for the man he was with Liz? It didn’t seem just either way. Nevertheless, he decided to talk to Gordon about his experience at Kourion. Transmigration seemed like a plausible enough explanation to this otherwise mysterious state in which he found himself falling deeper and deeper.
He spoke to Gordon, carefully leaving out his love affair with Angelica, and Gordon suggested a session. It was during hypnosis that the nebulous, albeit extremely forceful, feeling of déjà vu was confirmed. Angelica had been Tom’s wife on the island in another life back in 1192.
A minute with Lina Ellina Manager of the Olive Park Oleastro
Interview in Cyprus Mail
Where do you live?
In Anogyra with my husband
Best childhood memory?
Family Sunday trips to locations in Cyprus
What food is your real favourite?
Any meal that has been prepared with love and gusto.
What did you have for breakfast?
Pecorino cheese, hiromeri and red grapes
Would you class yourself as a day or night person? What’s your idea of the perfect night/day out?
When it comes to work, I’m a morning person. When it comes to writing, I get inspired at night.
Best book ever read?
The Chronicle of Leontios Mahairas. It inspired me to write about medieval Cyprus. My first novel, the historical fiction, The Venetian, was shortlisted for the European Book Prize 2012. I’m now finishing my second, also a historical fiction, entitled, The Scholar’s Ring.
Favourite film of all time?
There is no single one
Best holiday ever taken?
Culinary discovery of Europe – the richness of its history, architecture etc.
What music are you listening to in the car at the moment?
What is always in your fridge?
Pecorino cheese and hiromeri
Dream house: rural retreat or urban dwelling? Where would it be, what would it be like?
I am lucky enough to live in my dream house on a hill in Anogyra overlooking the Avdimou bay on the right and Episkopi bay on the left
If you could pick anyone at all (alive or dead) to go out for the evening with, who would it be?
Socrates – I would love to have a conversation with him
If the world is ending in 24 hours what would you do?
Spend it with my family
What is your greatest fear?
That I might not be able to care for my needs when I grow old, so I try hard to keep a healthy mind in a healthy body.