Introducing Constantia Soteriou
Constantia Soteriou is a Cypriot award-winning writer born in Nicosia in 1975. Her novels ‘Aishe Goes on Vacation’ (2015) and ‘Voices Made of Soil’ (2017) where both shortlisted for the Greek and Cypriot National Book Awards, while her short story, ‘Death Customs,’ won the 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Her latest novel, ‘Bitter Country’ written in 2019 has been shortlisted for the European Union Prize of Literature’.
Soteriou’s works are concerned with the recent history of Cyprus, focusing on the conflicts between Greek and Turkish Cypriots as well as the Turkish invasion of 1974 which to this day is keeping the island divided. Soteriou has repeatedly noted that her writing is driven by the desire to give voice to the women of this island since, like in many countries around the world, the experiences of Cypriot women have been largely neglected throughout Cypriot history. While Soteriou talks about the suffering and loss that both Cypriot communities were forced to face, her lyrical prose brings to light the power of these women contained in their endurance.
A unique aspect of her work is that she often writes in the Greek Cypriot dialect and in Turkish, performatively indicating the bicommunal essence of the island but also, as a Greek Cypriot myself, making me acknowledge the current alienation between our two communities; once we would learn each other’s languages just by living as neighbours but now, the post-war generations need a glossary section to grasp the entirety of Soteriou’s novels. Interestingly, in the English translation of her award-winning short story, ‘Death Customs,’ the translator, Lina Protopapa, similarly chooses to leave certain Greek and Turkish phrases untranslated, as a reminder to foreign readers, that this story belongs to another culture, noting the importance of preserving and honouring differences.
For me, the beauty of Soteriou’s writing style lies in her rich, distilled descriptions of her character’s experiences which in my favourite book of hers ‘Voices Made of Soil’, create a haunting cyclical narrative path in every chapter. Through her works which are grounded in tradition and cultural rituals, Soteriou highlights the importance of noticing the daily details of our lives, begging us to recognise their importance without having lost them.