As Census, by Panos Ioannides, opens, a married couple picks up a hitchhiker while on their way to visit a friend in the small Cypriot village of Spilia. The husband is a 35-year-old war correspondent, who has been deeply affected by his experiences during his most recent assignment abroad, but he refuses to tell anyone what’s troubling him. His 25-year-old wife is hiding a dark secret of her own. The young man they pick up, a musician from the Greek island of Patmos, is traveling to visit artist friends in Spilia. The lives of all of these characters will become intertwined in numerous ways.
The names of the characters alert the reader to the fact that the book’s plot will involve biblical themes. The husband’s name is Joseph, the wife is Maria, the guitarist from Patmos is Michael, and the couple he is going to visit are the Archangielsks. There will be a pregnancy, a birth, a death, a disappearance and a return. I have to say, though, that it wasn’t entirely clear to me what message the author was trying to convey.
Having said that, I enjoyed reading about life in this little Cypriot village. Descriptions of the art the Archangielsks are restoring in a local chapel, long conversations over a bounty of food and drink, and long walks in the snow paint a pretty picture of an idyllic way of life. Underneath the beauty, though, is a cauldron of swirling unrest: a meddling priest, a distrust of strangers, unease over a missing friend, and the crumbling relationship between Joseph and Maria. Now that I think of it, that could describe small towns anywhere.
Census begins in the realm of the ordinary, but turns to the metaphysical as the story progresses. I tend to be more down-to-earth and pragmatic myself, but for those who enjoy more transcendental themes, this book may be for you.
There were many dishes in Census that were vegan or could have been made vegan. Trahana soup made with bulgur, flaounas (pastries traditionally made for Easter), and an assortment of small dishes called a meze were all eaten by characters in the book. Even before I started reading, though, I had looked for Cypriot recipes on the International Vegetarian Union website and found one that I really wanted to try, an olive rosemary flatbread. I couldn’t find green Kalamata olives, so I used black Kalamatas instead, and since I really don’t like onions, I substituted the less offensive leek for the onion. The bread turned out tasty, but pretty dry. I don’t think the recipe called for enough liquid, so if I were to make it again, I’d probably add another one-fourth to one-half cup of water or olive oil.
GlobalGiving doesn’t have any projects in Cyprus, so I searched the Internet to see what I could find on other websites. Since cancer plays a big role in the plot of Census, it seemed fitting to donate to TULIPS TRNC and the Help Those with Cancer Association. TULIPS offers a wide variety of services to those suffering from cancer, and was instrumental in setting up the oncology ward at Lefkoşa State Hospital. More information about TULIPS TRNC is available at http://www.tulips-trnc.com/.
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