The book: The Island, by Victoria Hislop
The edition: English original, Headline Review paperback, 474 pages
Synopsis: a sweeping family story intertwined with the story of Spinalonga, a leper colony on an islet just off the Cretan coast. A tale of family bonds, parental and filial love, superstition, social responsibility, and family secrets.
My thoughts: I had seen this book time and again, but its cover looked too much like a planned bestseller cover to me. I had never so much as picked it up to see what it was about. It sparkled no interest in me. Then, while I was on Crete (and reading books set there) a person lent it to me – and I started reading. It was captivating. It was good. It told you the story of Crete and Cretan society through the decades, never reading as a history book. My heart went out to the characters, to Eleni and Giorgis and Maria (not so much to Sofia, though). While it is certainly not an exceptional example of literature, it’s a nice read, a nice story, and I had the feeling that it described quite well the society of Crete during the 1900s. In other words, it felt “right”.
What I liked most: I liked the way love was portrayed in the face of leprosy, and the descriptions of small things that make the setting really Cretan (I wouldn’t have known, had I not been there while reading the book!). I also liked to learn more about leprosy — I was surprised at how little I knew!
What I didn’t like: the whole frame in which the story is set, the secret that present-time Alexis wants to know about turns out not to be strong enough (in my opinion) to justify all the secrecy. I would have preferred the story told as such (in Michener style), not as a flashback — but then again, maybe it wouldn’t have been just as gripping…
Read this if: if you like historical novels set in the 20th Century but want to read something lighter than another Holocaust-based book; also, if you like stories with a feminine perspective (NOT: a feminist perspective, though!) like The Joy Luck Club and Marcela Serrano’s novels.
Counts as: Travel With Books – Greece