by Nora James
Few Kenyon students may be aware of the complex political situation on the island of Cyprus. Peter Rutkoff, professor of American studies, wants to change that. In his newest book, Cyprus Portraits, he takes an intriguing look at the politically divided island. Through a series of photographs and intimate stories of the island’s inhabitants, Rutkoff explores the intricacies of life in Cyprus. Rutkoff celebrated the book’s release with a launch party and reading at the Kenyon College Bookstore on Monday.
Cyprus lies in the Mediterranean Sea west of Lebanon and south of Turkey. Both Turkish and Greek citizens have occupied the island for hundreds of years, and long-lasting tensions between the groups finally erupted into fighting in the 1970s. Since then, Cyprus has been divided by a United Nations buffer zone colloquially known as the Green Line. This line separates the Turkish Republic of the north from the Greek Cypriots in the south. The line was impassable for many years until 2008, when the Turkish Cypriot administration significantly eased restrictions on crossing, enabling travel between the two sides.
On Monday, Rutkoff shared stories and photographs with a gathering of about 15 attendees. He highlighted how the everyday lives of the island’s inhabitants are shaped by but in other ways transcend this division. “Despite language and religion, the Cypriots are one people,” he said. “What’s different is the nationalism that’s been imposed upon them.”
And that’s just what the book is about — people. It focuses on several individuals with whom Rutkoff has become close friends over the years, including a Turkish spice shop owner and a man exiled to Cyprus from Turkey.
Rutkoff first visited Cyprus on a 2005 Fulbright scholarship, and quickly fell in love with the island and its people, returning 10 years later to reconnect with old friends and colleagues. His 2005 book Across the Green Line documents his early experiences on the island.
“This work is really an extension of that,” Rutkoff said of Cyprus Portraits. “When I first came to the island it was very difficult to travel across, but it’s really changed in the past 10 years.”
Evie Gimbel ’17, who attended the launch, said, “I think there’s a beauty in his dedication to keep on revisiting one place over and over to try and really get to know the people there.”
Another attendee admired his dedication. “Professor Rutkoff’s reading showed that he’s still actively pursuing his interests, which I think is inspiring,” attendee Eve Bromberg ’19, who is an opinions writer for the Collegian, said.
Rutkoff admits that he did not always plan to become a writer. “In the academic world, of course you have to write theses,” he said. But he grew inspired to write works of fiction and nonfiction, too. Of his writing process, Rutkoff said, “The best way to learn, really, is to have discussions and talk it out.”
The new book is the latest in a line of works Rutkoff has published; he has written books on topics ranging from baseball in Chicago to the Great Migration of African-Americans from the south to the north. But Cyprus remains close to his heart, and he hopes to return as soon as he can.
Rutkoff’s book is available for purchase on the website of his Gambier-based publisher, XOXOX Press, and at the bookstore.