Book of the month

10 Aug 2023

Sweet and Bitter Island: a history of the British in Cyprus, Tabitha Morgan, I.B. Tauris, 2010.

“[…]82 years of colonial rule that began when Sir Garnet Wolseley’s troops stepped nervously ashore at Larnaca on a stifling August Sunday in 1878.”

In "Sweet and Bitter Island: A History of the British in Cyprus", Tabitha Morgan delivers a compelling and insightful account of Cyprus's complex colonial past, skillfully weaving historical narratives with her deep understanding of the region. With a background in English literature from Cambridge University and with over a decade of reporting experience, covering various issues and events related to Cyprus for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), her role as a journalist allowed her to dive deep into the region's history, culture, and politics, providing her with invaluable insights that she would later bring to her writing.

One of the book's standout features is Morgan's balanced perspective. “Politically, Cyprus, unlike any other colony, was an anomaly.” [...] She navigates the contentious aspects of British colonialism in Cyprus with sensitivity, acknowledging both the positive and negative implications of the imperial presence “The disastrous forests fires that resulted from Unwin’s policies had convinced his successors, Ronald Waterer and his deputy, Geoff Chapman, of the importance of listening to popular opinion in rural areas. [...] Both men had been disturbed by the racial and social segregation they encountered on bard ship during their journeys to Cyprus.”

Morgan delves deep into the intricate history of British involvement in Cyprus, tracing its colonial past, political turmoil, and the socio-cultural impact on the island and its people. “Some British government officials saw Cyprus as a ‘neglected backwater’ after 300 years of sleepy Ottoman rule. Britain therefore, felt it had a moral obligation to restore Cyprus from a barren, neglected wasteland to its former fruitful prosperity in ancient times before the Ottomans.” Her adeptness at presenting complex historical events in a coherent and accessible manner ensures that even readers unfamiliar with the subject can easily follow the story. “At the level of policy, doubts over the island’s changing strategic value led to confusion and an absence of long-term planning […] despite the enthusiasm and energy of the first British arrivals on the island, the foundations of colonial rule were far from firm.”

In conclusion, "Sweet and Bitter Island: A History of the British in Cyprus" is an engaging account of Cyprus' historical relationship with the British. Tabitha Morgan's background as a seasoned reporter and her personal connection to the region infuse the narrative with authenticity making this book an excellent choice for gaining a deeper understanding of the island's complex history and an excellent choice for anyone seeking an engaging and informative account of Cyprus's past under British rule, capturing the nuances of historical events while providing contemporary relevance to the island's ongoing story.

“Britain and Cyprus have too much common history and share too many memories - sweet as well as bitter – to shut the door on the past.”

You can find this book, and many more, in the Research Centre of the CVAR.

The 'Book Of The Month' series is made possible with the support of OPAP (Cyprus).

Discover More