By Eleni Sakellis –
Author Gus Constantine recently released his second novel, a sequel to his debut Escaping Cyprus, following the characters through their continuing trials and tribulations. Escaping Cyprus II The Final Chapter begins forty-two years after the end of the first book and includes dramatic revelations and issues affecting the world today. Acts of terrorism and horrific atrocities are still going on, the author reminds us as he mentions Syria, war, and the fight against ISIS. What seems clear is that forgiveness is the only way forward.
Constantine spoke with The National Herald about his books, his life, and his upcoming projects. He mentioned his background is not a literary one, no ivory tower for him, but instead, he drove a truck for many years. Constantine told TNH that he attended college for only one year and took a creative writing course which influenced his writing life when he finally decided to write his first book.
The memory of the professor singling out his work in the class and comparing his paper to another student’s stayed with him. The professor handed out copies of his paper and the other student’s paper to everyone in the class, asking which one of the stories they liked best. Constantine’s story had some issues with grammar and spelling, but it was the overwhelming favorite while the other student’s work, the professor pointed out, grammatically correct and perfect in terms of spelling, was also not a very compelling story. It was this professor’s encouragement, noting Constantine’s instincts as a storyteller, that helped him realize he was a writer.
Writing, Constantine said, is in his blood. In his retirement, he decided to write the story that had haunted him for years, compiled from the many eyewitness accounts he had heard and read about concerning the invasion of Cyprus in 1974. The list of the missing included at the end of the book is perhaps the most poignant reminder that the nation of Cyprus is still divided and illegally occupied by Turkey and the suffering of the families of those missing and those who were killed continues even after 42 years.
Constantine told TNH, he had no plans to write a sequel after finishing the first book, though readers including his daughter wondered what would have happened to the characters after such a dramatic ending. Working on a new story, unrelated to his debut novel, Constantine found himself inspired to write the sequel. The election undoubtedly also influenced his imagination for the second book as the story unfolds around the election of a Cypriot-American President of the United States.
The author also finds encouragement in a “list of hall of fame losers” he keeps on his refrigerator that includes Harry Potter series author J.K. Rowling. A divorced mother on welfare, Rowling considered herself a “loser,” famously writing the first Harry Potter book in cafes while her baby daughter slept and receiving a dozen rejections before the book was accepted for publication by Bloomsbury. The rest is literary history.
Besides his writing, Constantine also teaches Sunday school and told TNH about the students’ volunteer work at St. Paraskevi in Greenlawn, NY, inspired by the words of Jesus, feeding the homeless. He said, “It brought tears to my eyes when they asked if they could do it again, but this time they asked if they can supply everything… all the food and drinks and some clothing.” The Bible passage is one of Constantine’s favorites, Matthew 25:35 “I was hungry you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you took me in.”
Giving back to the community is important to Constantine and his family. His wife Georgia is the President of the Philoptochos at St. Paraskevi. Faith and forgiveness also figure prominently in his books.
Gus Constantine’s novels Escaping Cyprus and Escaping Cyprus II The Final Chapter are both available online.