Bitter Lemons

Bitter Lemons is an autobiographical work by writer Lawrence Durrell, describing the three years (1953–1956) he spent on the island of Cyprus. The book was awarded the Duff Cooper Prize for 1957, the second year the prize was awarded.

Bitter Lemons of Cyprus
First edition cover
AuthorLawrence Durrell
Original titleBitter Lemons
CountryUnited Kingdom
PublisherFaber & Faber
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardback and Paperback)
Preceded byReflections on a Marine Venus (1953) 
Followed byBlue Thirst (1975) 


Durrell moved to Cyprus in 1953, following several years spent working for the British Council in Argentina and the Foreign Office in Yugoslavia.[1] Having relinquished government employment, Durrell wanted to plunge himself once more into writing, and was looking to return to the Mediterranean world he had experienced in Corfu and Rhodes. He had hoped that he would be able to purchase a house in an affordable location and write. Although Durrell must have experienced personal difficulties—his wife, Eve, was undergoing treatment for mental illness and had left him in charge of his young daughter, Sappho (born 1951)[1] — the book does not mention these people or incidents, aside from a few oblique references to his daughter.

In 1956, he abandoned his home on the island and left Cyprus very rapidly for a very brief residence in the UK, quickly relocating to France for the remaining three decades of his life. Durrell later returned to discussions of Cyprus in 1974, in an article in the Daily Mail,[2] but he otherwise said little about Cyprus after his departure.

Plot summary

The book is alternately comic and serious, charting Durrell's experiences on Cyprus and the people he met and befriended, as well as charting the progress of the Cypriot "Enosis" (union with Greece and freedom from British rule) movement, which plunged the island into chaos and violence. Comic moments include Durrell's successful house-buying adventure, and the visits of his mother and brother, naturalist Gerald Durrell. Durrell settled in the village of Bellapais (purposely spelt "Bellapaix" by Durrell to evoke the old name Paix), which is now part of the Turkish-controlled north.

During his stay, Durrell worked first as an English teacher at the Pancyprian Gymnasium, where several of his female students reportedly fell in love with him:

Invited to write an essay on her favourite historical character, [Electra] never failed to delight me with something like this: 'I have no historical character but in the real life there is one I love. He is writer. I dote him and he dotes me. How pleasure is the moment when I see him came at the door. My glad is very big.'[3]

Eventually, however, "the vagaries of fortune and the demons of ill-luck dragged Cyprus into the stock-market of world affairs" and as armed groups emerged demanding an end to British rule and Cyprus' reunion with Greece, Durrell accepted a job as press adviser to the British governor. Durrell was not enamoured with the Cypriot militants, however, and felt that they were dragging the island to a "feast of unreason" and that "embedded so deeply in the medieval compost of religious hatreds, the villagers floundered in the muddy stream of undifferentiated hate like drowning men." The account ends with him fleeing the island without saying goodbye to his friends, approaching the "heavily guarded airport" by taxi in conversation with the driver who tells him "Dighenis, though he fights the British, really loves them. But he will have to go on killing them—with regret, even with affection."[4]


  1. MacNiven, Ian S. (1998). Lawrence Durrell: A Biography. Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-17248-2.
  2. Durrell, Lawrence. "This Magnetic, Bedevilled Island That Tugs at My Heart." Daily Mail 22 August 1974, p. 6
  3. Edmund Keeley discusses this theme in the novel. Keeley, Edmund. "Byron, Durrell, and Modern Philhellenism." Lawrence Durrell: Comprehending the Whole. Eds. Julius Rowan Raper, Melody Enscore, and Paige Matthey Bynum. St. Louis: U of Missouri P, 1994. 111-117.
  4. Durrell, Lawrence (2000). Bitter Lemons. Faber and Faber. p. 271. ISBN 0-571-20155-5.
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