Wednesday 3 January 2018

The Island - Victoria Hislop

The acclaimed million-copy number one bestseller and winner of Richard & Judy's Summer Read 2006 from Victoria Hislop is a dramatic tale of four generations, rent by war, illicit love, violence and leprosy, from the thirties, through the war, to the present day.

On the brink of a life-changing decision, Alexis Fielding longs to find out about her mother's past. But Sofia has never spoken of it. All she admits to is growing up in a small Cretan village before moving to London. When Alexis decides to visit Crete, however, Sofia gives her daughter a letter to take to an old friend, and promises that through her she will learn more.

Arriving in Plaka, Alexis is astonished to see that it lies a stone's throw from the tiny, deserted island of Spinalonga - Greece's former leper colony. Then she finds Fotini, and at last hears the story that Sofia has buried all her life: the tale of her great-grandmother Eleni and her daughters and a family rent by tragedy, war and passion. She discovers how intimately she is connected with the island, and how secrecy holds them all in its powerful grip...

What did I think?

When I read my first Victoria Hislop book, The Sunrise, I just knew that I had to read all of her other books, so I was delighted when my fairy godsister offered to loan me her copy of The Island which was Victoria Hislop's first novel.  What an amazing debut, it's absolutely breathtaking and it affected me so much that I found myself getting quite emotional quite a few times.

I have never been to Crete but my parents have been and I heard all about their trip to Spinalonga - the famous Greek leper colony.  What Victoria Hislop does so cleverly is that she breathes new life into history by creating characters you take to your heart so that you walk every step and feel every emotion with them.

The story starts in 2001 with Alexis Fielding visiting the small fishing village of Plaka to find out about her family history, it's a bit of an excuse to get away from her boyfriend for a few days on their holiday to Crete.  Alexis carries a letter from her mother, Sofia, to her old friend Fotini which asks Fotini to tell Alexis the story that Sofia can't bring herself to tell her daughter.  So the story rolls back to 1939 beginning with Sofia's grandparents, Georgis and Eleni, and their two daughters Anna and Maria.  The family are heartbroken when leprosy curses their house and a life on Spinalonga beckons for Eleni, but this isn't the only secret that Sofia has kept hidden from Alexis.

The story of Spinalonga is absolutely fascinating and I could imagine people's fear of leprosy before it was fully understood.  It's so sad to think that people could have been going about their everyday lives then noticing an odd patch of skin and before they know it they are ripped from their family and sent to live on the island.  It must have been soul destroying to be so close to mainland Crete but hopefully the residents made the best of it, as they did in this book.  This multi-coloured, hopeful and beautiful story is the history of Spinalonga that I want to remember and The Island is not a book I will ever forget.

A beautiful, breathtaking debut that breathes new life into this mysterious island and reveals its colourful history so vividly through Victoria Hislop's descriptive and emotional prose.  A definite recommended read and one that I will read again.

My rating:

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