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The True Story

The True Story


A daring self-portrait, created by the painter Andreas Karayan, not with his brush this time, but with his pen, with which he demonstrates the art of portraiture in prose.

Author: Andreas Karayan more info

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I was brought up in the catholic faith, with the Damoclean weight of original sin hovering over my head. Sex was a sin, because I learned that the apple our forefathers ate on losing Paradise was not an apple but a banana.

This is how the age of innocence begins and ends for the hero of True Story, taking its title from Lucian. Except that Lucian’s stories are untrue, whereas these are the true adventures, told with directness and humour, of a young man in Cyprus and Athens during the ‘50s and ‘60s, when the provincial and the cosmopolitan were in conflict, and collective suffering stifled personal tragedy or comedy.

Ouzounian Street, a microcosm of old Nicosia, the first erotic escapades, a Franciscan Friar’s catholic boarding school, sexual awakening, the discovery of “difference” and, later, years of guilt and confusion vividly come to life in a daring self-portrait, created by the painter Andreas Karayan, not with his brush this time, but with his pen, with which he demonstrates the art of portraiture in prose.

The true story follows Dark Tales (Armida Books,  2020) and Immoral Tales (Armida Books, 2014)

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Before I ever met Andreas Karayan, one of his works, oil on canvas, from 1983, entitled Cyclists, at the Bacharian Gallery, had made a deep impression on me. Two young men of about eighteen sit with their backs to us, demi profil, bicycling or rather stopping with their bicycles, on a street where we can’t see the details but we can guess how it feels. It’s night-time, a warm summer night to judge from their clothes.

Karayan’s painting instantly revived memories of my own summers as a teenager in Filothei, at my father’s sister’s house, when my cousin, my older brother and I cycled around the empty and not yet dangerous streets. Easy summers just after the Occupation, during those first post-war years. The carefree atmosphere, still cosmopolitan and untouched by the troubles, is conveyed by Andreas Karayan’s book, The True Story, and it is no accident that its cover shows those same cyclists from ’83.  Except that the book is not concerned with Athens, but with Cyprus before the Invasion. The artist writes apparently to settle his accounts with childhood and adolescence, and in doing so he brings forth a literary talent hitherto unseen. The first book is divided into sixteen chapters or Parts, together with an Epilogue. In them he narrates with notable facility and charm his first flutters of disquiet and a complicated family history involving both a real and a surrogate father. Not much is said about this tragic triangle, as Karayan described it the other day in his Sunday interview for Kathimerini. We guess at more than we are told. Relatives and friends, male and female, are portrayed in quick brush-strokes before we reach the part showing nostalgic family photographs, attractive as all such black and white photographs are. He, his brother and their mother, the legendary Carmella, who is brought to life as a true heroine. One might feel tempted to criticise the author for diverting us with his family affairs, if it were not that every line, event or portrait gives us an insight to life in Cyprus before the Invasion. It is a book in praise of that great island during its own Belle Epoque, a time when in contrast to the mainland, a carefree good life, fashion, the arts, outings, its own way of life and customs, all are illustrated with a quivering vitality. It is an era, nonetheless, marked by the threat of EOKA.

Karayan’s storytelling about his family and his country is episodic, much like the observations kept in a diary… There are so many characters and instances the reader wishes to keep hold of, Greek Cypriots dressing proudly in aladjia  a cheap Cyprus cloth to avoid English cotton, Ali the nightwatchman from the Ionian Bank, Ouzounian Street, red-headed Emetté’s magical garden, the folk of Nicosia on their evening promenades. And then EOKA comes to turn it all upside down and brings an end to this beautiful era with the battle at the Pancyprian Gymnasium, with stone-throwing and vandalism.

During the entirety of the book, the young Karayan is torn between the Proustian shadow of young girls in flower and the shadow of young men in flesh. The great events in Cyprus and Greece pass by more as the backdrop on a painting whose main subject is the sensuality of the male body…

Karayan’s The True Story is a charming book. It reconstructs a world that is gone for good. Its prevailing mood prevents the author from politicising, from referring to historical figures, and so what remains is the flavour of the  guileless life of a boy who grows up in a dreamlike atmosphere made more dreamlike in the manner of its telling. And since we are talking about stories I would like to stress the polished and flowing narrative of a book which makes us participant in a life not our own. Even the narrator’s humour is of a distinctive kind, Cypriot I should say. Andreas Karayan’s book delights us and keeps our attention from beginning to end.