Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2017, Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Island – Victoria Hislop #20booksofsummer

Historical Fiction
5*s

I chose The Island because I visited the now abandoned leper colony on the island of Spinalonga last year on my holiday to Crete. What I didn’t expect was the story that is set on that island to grab me quite so much.

Alexis Fielding is on the brink of making the biggest decision of her life and almost as a distraction fixates on the mystery of her mother’s life, her childhood that she refused to talk about. All through her childhood Sofia had received letters with Greek stamps on intermittently though Alexis’s childhood but when she is visiting Greece with her long-standing boyfriend she tells her mother that she would visit the place where Sofia had grown up, Plaka and Sofia relented and gave her a letter to give to her old friend.

                                           Plaka

The story that follows spans decades from before the Second World War and a good part of it is set on the leper colony on Spinalonga where sufferers of leprosy were sent, away from their friends and family to stop the spread of the disease. What I’d never realised before visiting Spinalonga and reading The Island, was that sufferers could and often did live for years, the trajectory of the disease not being predictable until the end which to be honest sounds pretty horrific.

 

                                     Approach to Spinalonga

This is a saga of a story though, and has all the required elements of love, betrayal, secrets and at its heart family. The story swings backwards and forwards from the little village of Plaka where life is simple to the bigger towns where research was going on to find a cure for the dreadful disease, a search which was suspended when the war became the fight that the whole of Greece was focussed on.

Spinalonga doctors, priest, and inmates

The story is told through Fontini’s retelling of the events spanning years to Alexis and the story centres around Maria Petrakis, a young teacher who may have caught Leprosy from one of her pupils. Maria was sent to Spinalonga along with the ten year old boy, leaving her father and her younger sister behind. But Spinalonga wasn’t the bleak place you might suppose. Continued pressure on the great and the good of Crete meant that those living there were able to make the place into a small community complete with market day and supported by twice weekly deliveries of goods from Plakka. With letters and regular visits from a doctor who was willing to take the risk of contracting leprosy the inhabitants get news from the world outside, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to put yourselves into the shoes of those who lived in the little houses on the island of their exile.

               Some of the houses on Spinalonga

Victoria Hislop weaves a fantastic tale around a family based on the history of an island which must have held so many equally involved stories and so vivid was Maria’s story that I had to remind myself continually that this was a work of fiction but despite that, now many weeks after reading The Island Maria’s story lingers in my mind. For those of you who haven’t yet read this book I’m pleased to report that despite the subject matter the book comes to the perfect ending.

The Island was my ninth read of my 20 Books of Summer  Challenge 2017

First Published UK: February 2005
Publisher: Headline 
No of Pages: 480
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US 

Author:

A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

35 thoughts on “The Island – Victoria Hislop #20booksofsummer

  1. It’s an impressive book, especially given the fact that it was Hislop’s debut. I read it with my old book group several years ago, probably when it came out in paperback – there was a time when everyone seemed to be reading it! I’m glad you got a lot out of it too.

  2. I was surprised by how much I was engaged by this novel. Probably because it wasn’t overly sentimental. I tried another by Hislop, called The Thread but found it very dull in comparison

    1. I agree there were huge events but it wasn’t over-egged which is something that I always find a turn-off – I haven’t read any of her other books yet so I’ll remember your comments about The Thread.

  3. I really loved this book when I read it. I have a couple of other Victoria Hislop books on the shelf, I really must get to them.

  4. This sounds like a terrific read, Cleo. The setting, of course, appeals to me a lot. But it also sounds like a strong story of family and of friendship, too. Glad you enjoyed it so well.

    1. I thought I’d enjoy it because of the setting and the history but I didn’t expect the other elements to be so compelling – and after all those relationships are what matter the most to the majority of us!

    1. I thought it had disappeared soon after the biblical age so to find out that people were sent to this leper colony into the 1950s was a huge surprise – the relationships (of all kinds) are what really make this book so special.

  5. Goodness, I had no idea there were still leper colonies so recently! I thought they were a thing of the far distant past. And I’m glad the story wasn’t too grim despite the setting. Sounds intriguing – I may have to add this one to my wishlist…

    1. I had no idea either until we went to Crete and then I saw so many people reading this book which I bought for it to sit on my bookshelf for an entire year – from what I can tell Victoria Hislop did her research well and then wove a compelling story around the facts.

  6. I’m with Sherry. Such a love place for such a troubling story. I’m intrigued and like to learn historical events from fiction.

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