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A friend from work passed this book onto me months and months ago and it has just been sat there on my shelf patiently. The reason I didn't read it immediately is because the friend in question is known for her love of old fashioned romance style books and dare I say it...Mills and Boon!! Not my cup of tea at all so I wasn't in a rush to read the book she had recommended.
I was wrong!! This book is very far removed from Mills and Boon and I wish I'd read it sooner.
Alexis is going on holiday with her boyfriend Ed, and you get the feeling that she's not sure about her relationship with him. They are going to Greece and whilst there, Alexis plans to go to Plaka, on Crete, a small village where her mother, Sofia, grew up. The only bit of her mother's early life she knows about is that she was brought up on Plaka and is interested to find out more. Her mother gives her a letter to give to an old friend who is still in the village.
During the last days of her holiday with Ed, Alexis decides to go off on her own to Plaka and find the friend of her mothers and pass the letter on. When she arrives she is amazed to see how close Spinalonga, a former leper colony is to where her mother used to live. Little does she know how much the island is intertwined with her mother's story.
Alexis decides to visit the island before finding her mother's friend and finds derelict buildings but signs that the island was once a thriving community but now has just an eerie silence about it.
On returning to Plaka she finds her mother's friend and passes on the letter.
From that point on we are taken back several generations to the story of Sofia's great grandmother Eleni and her removal from Plaka to Spinalonga as she shows signs of leprosy.
A lot of the story tells of life on Spinalonga and how the people destined to spend the rest of their lives on the island lived. I found this really interesting as it told of how the inhabitants build a community together and make the most of what they have.
The story is inspiring and shows how people can survive even when they think they have been given a life sentence.
I won't say any more of the story as it will spoil it for anyone that wants to read the book but it keeps you interested.
~~~What I thought~~~
This book is very educational!! I knew nothing about leprosy at all before reading this book and found it really informative. Combined with a good story I think it's a book worth reading. The characters are well defined and make you feel empathy for them. The author seems to have captured the narrow mindedness feelings of people in general towards lepors and gives you an insight into both sides of this terrible disease.
Whilst I was about half way through this book, I all of a sudden said to my husband, "Hislop? I wonder if she is Ian Hislop's wife?" We watch him on 'Have I got news for you' and after some digging, I found that yes, indeed she is!! It took me a while to find this information so she obviously doesn't feed off her husband's success which pleased me. This is her first novel and I have to say it is an exceptionally good debut!
~~~Would I recommend?~~~
Without a doubt! I have been to Athens and Corfu but never to Crete. The friend I got this book from has visited Spinalonga twice and although I'm not sure when I will get to Crete, this book will be at the back of my mind and I will make a point of visiting Spinalonga!
I very rarely pay for books as I make full use of my local library or have books passed onto me but this is available from Amazon for £4.99 new or used at £2.67
This book is based on the Greek Island of Crete and the mysterious Spinalonga which is a small island off the Plaka coast. I live in Cyprus so I thought it would be a nice summer read which I could read on the Greek Cypriot beaches to help the book enlighten me into Greek culture and an area of Greece I would now like to visit. The book was not a normal choice for me as I tend to read the true stories and sad novels, however when I was recommended this book by a friend I thought I would give it a try. With a bit of research before I purchased the book I found that "The Island" has sold a million copies and was voted winner of Richard and Judy's Summer Read 2006. The story visits four generations and through the eyes of each generation the story is told. Many different topics are discussed in this novel from war, love, violence and leprosy and how each has evolved from the 1930s until today, therefore making it more appealing to a wider audience.
The story see's Alexis Fielding struggling to decide whether her boyfriend really could be the man she wants for the rest of her life and she therefore decides to delve into her mother's (Sophia) past due to the fact she knows so little about her family history on the maternal side. All her mother has told her is that she grew up in the small village, Plaka which is situated in Crete. When Alexis makes her mother aware that she is visiting Crete on a vacation with her partner she decides to make Sophia aware that she is interested to know more about her ancestors. Sophia isn't too keen by the idea at first until she writes a letter to Fontini, a family friend who she grew up with, and asks Alexis to pass on the letter when she arrives at Plaka. With the letter give Fontini then gives Alexis a detailed description of Alexis's family events for the past 80 years.
When Alexis arrives in Plaka, she is shocked to see that within a stone's throw away is the deserted island of Spinalonga - Greece's former leper colony, which Alexis was not previously aware of. When she finds Fontini, Alexis gets a surprise when she finds out how closely she is linked to Spinalonga and how it has had a major effect on Sophia's life.
The book is told through each character's eyes throughout the decades, you get drawn into the family's battle with leprosy, unrequited love and how war has changed the structure of Alexis's family. It is written with great detail which really allows you to feel as though you are witnessing the events as they are happening.
The story has enlightened me to some Greek cultures I wasn't previously aware off which is a nice addition as not only is the book a good read but it is mildly educational as well, with certain Greek words interjected into the story to help create a true background and image for the reader of this truly great novel. The story brought me into the world of Spinalonga an actual island which was used to home lepers and keep them away from the rest of the world. Many websites can provide you with more information on the islands background if you would like to take this book further. I think this is a major advantage of this book, it is at present the only book I have read and been that interested after reading it that I have gone on to research about the location to find out more.
~review also on ciao under the same username~
I would imagine that most parents tell their children how things were when they were young. I know I have, but Sophia has never spoken about her childhood. She only admits to have grown up in a small village in Crete before moving to London. Her daughter, Alexis Fielding has decided to go on holiday to Crete with her long term boyfriend, who she feels she doesn't really love and her Mother gives her a letter to take to an old friend, and promises that through her friend she will learn more about her childhood.
Alexis suddenly tells Ed, that she is going away for the day and leaves him at the hotel and makes the long journey to the small fishing village called Plaka, which was her Mother's home town. Alexis is surprised to see that the deserted island of Spinalonga, which was once the enforced home to many lepers in Crete is not far out to sea and goes on a visit there. Something I am told from a friend that you can actually do now.
After a refreshing drink she asks where she can find Fotini and soon discovers her Mother's old friend, who was expecting her and knows she has along story to tell to Sophia's daughter.
The story unfolds over many days and Alexis doesn't really think to let Ed know that she is staying longer. She discovers all about Eleni, her Great Grandmother and her family, the connection with the Island and about other families. About secrets which were kept for many years and why her Mother kept quiet about her childhood.
I liked the way the story was told starting with the present as Alexis prepares to go on holiday, then most of the story is in the past, and I was really hooked here, and thoroughly enjoyed the details about the lepers on the Island, learning things I knew little about. This was mostly seen through the eyes of Maria who was Sophia's aunt. Then finally it goes back to the present.
I have never been to Crete but I felt I could imagine what it was like, how the simple houses were furnished and what they did in their daily lives. How Maria's fisherman father rowed over to the island each day with food and transporting a Doctor who worked there.
Of course I won't tell you the ending, you'll need to read the book to see if Alexis finds out all about Sophia's childhood and her family secrets which she has never shared and what happens with Ed who was deserted on his holiday.
Victoria Hislop's first novel "The Island" is an international bestseller. It was selected for the Richard and Judy Summer Read, and won Victoria the "Newcomer of the Year" Award at the Galaxy British Book Awards 2007. It has been translated into more than a dozen languages.
This is a story with secrets, lies, deceit, scandal and of course love! And unusually leprosy. This made it a bit different to the usual love story but I would say it is a book for the ladies, and a good one to take on holiday or read on a long journey. It has 473 pages and can be picked up at reduced prices on Amazon or eBay, although was originally £7.99.
I enjoyed it, I know several others who enjoyed it too, so can recommend this for a good read slightly different to your usual love stories.
I picked up this book in desparartion at the library having run out of books to read. A friend recommended it so while it isn't normally what I would choose I thought I would give it a go. The story is that of A young woman, Alexis who seeks to discover what her mother has hidden about her family for all her life. While on holiday in Crete with her boyfriend who she is unsure about continuing the relationship with Alexis visits on old friend of her mother's in Plaka. Fotini tells Alexis the story of her family which her mtoher has always felt unable to reveal, and this is the majority of the book's content. The story begins in the 1930s with the generation of Alexis' great grandparents. Plaka is a town in a unique position - it lies opposite the leper colony of Spinalonga. As Fotini unfurls the story of Alexis' family the connection between her and the eponymous island becomes ever clearer.
I could go on but don't want to spoil the story for anyone wanting to read this immensely popular novel. What I will say is that for me this book did not even nearly live up to the hype. I wasn't expecting brilliant quality writing and was ready for more of a beach book but found this book to be hackneyed and full of predictability. I was never really drawn into the story, found much of it unlikely and uninteresting and it was definitely not the the riveting read for me many seem to think it was.
This said it is a reasonably diverting read with some decent characterisation. I was hoping for something like Captain Corelli's Mandolin and maybe this is why I found this a disappointing read - the two are incomparable. I know this is a brief review - it reflects my ambivalence towards the book. I don't have that much to say about it which says it all to me. Entertaining but forgetable. It is what it is. One of the reviewers comments ont he cover describes it as a beach book with a heart - it's definitley a beach book as it is escapist and fanciful but I'd say the heart was missing.
'The Island' is and award winning book written by Victoria Hislop. Hislop wrote the book in 2005 and was voted the best book of the year by the popular chat show hosts, Richard and Judy, and may I say this book deserves every credit that it has ever been given.
The story starts of following a young woman, Alexis Fielding, who is on holiday in Greece with her boyfriend. Alexis' family come from Greece and while on holiday, she is determined to find out about her ancestors. Alexis' drive to uncover her family's past leads her to one of her mothers old friends, and this is where the story really becomes compelling. The reader is taken back to a small village in Plaka, Greece during the time that leprosy ruled with fear over the residents of Greece. The small town of Plaka directly faces Spinalonga, the island where all of the lepers were obtained at the time. The book follows one families' terrific yet tragic journey through this time period, seeing the rein leprosy through from beginning to end. Once Alexis discovers the romantic yet heartbreaking past of her mother and her grandmother, the reader returns to present day and the book finishes with Alexis' moving and life changing decisions that she makes about her own life due to what her past has taught her. Although the book finishes and ends with Alexis' story, the book is primarily about her families past, dealing with leprosy.
I believe this book to be the best book that I have ever read, it has been three years since I have read this book and yet I am still searching for one that will compare to The Island. It has been said that Hislop has created a book very much like 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' and she has been discredited for this, yet after reading 'Captain Corelli's Mandolin' (in search to find a book as good as 'The Island') I think they share resemblances of such a passionate and tragic storyline, yet I think they are very different. It astonishing how much culture and atmosphere of the time period and the country Hislop has been able to put into her book and it is so clear that she must have done hours upon hours of research and had many trips to Greece to be able to write with such depth and compassion of this story.
I simply cannot describe what a fantastic book 'The Island' really is, it has such a heart and such passion that will have you holding tightly on to this book at all times. After reading it, it has now become one of my dreams to visit the island of Spinalonga, and I have searched for three years to find a book that will entertain me half as much as 'The Island' has, yet I cant even begin to compare any of them to it, not even 'The Return' (Victoria Hislop's second book) And I really do hope you chose to read this book because you will be stunned with the magnificence and passion of her writing.
The author is Victoria Hislop, an award winning British author who worked in publishing and as a journalist before becoming an author.
Her first novel was this particular one - The Island, and what a way to start!!It has been hailed as "the new Captain Corelli's Mandolin, was a Number 1 Bestseller in the UK, its success in part the result of having been selected by the Richard and Judy Book Club for their 2006 Summer Reads.
It was because of this recommendation that I decided to read it, and after reading the info on the back was to be honest a little put off. I didnt really see any enjoyment about reading about a leper colony. However I was told to read it anyway by my cousin who said it wasnt as depressing as it sounded! So I gave it a go and am chuffed that I did.
Many people said it had a slow start however I didnt think so, I was gripped from the begininng.
You are instantly transported to Crete where you get drawn straight in to the ambience of the island and then you get to learn about the history of a tiny island situated off Crete called Spinalonga. Now I have been to Crete numerous times and never fancied the day trip to see a leper colony!! But boy do I want to go back now and see it. The history of it is fascinating and you really get to experience what happened during this tragic time when leperacy was rife.
The story is of a girl called Alexis Fielding, who knows nothing about her family's past and has always resented her mother for refusing to discuss it. The only thing she knows is that her mother, Sofia grew up in Plaka, a small Cretan village, before moving to London. She decides to visit Plaka to see the village where her mother was born, Alexis then discovers that the village of Plaka faces the small, deserted island of Spinalonga, which she learnt was Greece's leper colony for much of the 20th century.She then meets a lady called Fotina who tells her for the first time the whole tragic story of her family. She tells her the story of Eleni, her great-grandmother, and of a family torn apart by tragedy, war and passion. She discovers how intimately she is connected with the island and with the horror and pity of the leper colony which was once there, and learns too that the secrets of the past have the power to change the future.
Please please read this book, its truly fascinating and beautifully written. You wont want to put it down and if you are interested in either Greece, History or both then you will absolutely love it.
The blurb on the back of the book may make you inclined to reject it as rather depressing. Please don't, give it a chance. It doesn't have the quickest start but that suits the subject matter and the location. You are almost immediately transported to Greece and its rather more relaxed and simplistic way of life, the culture oozes from the pages and you can almost smell the olive groves. This may sound somewhat pretentious but you are made of stone if you don't feel this. I was born to people watch and this book is everything the people watcher could ever wish for. If the human condition fascinates you, as it does me, then this is definitely the book for you. I don't want to discuss the storyline other than to say that the range of characters and how they intertwine and relate is stunning. I spent the whole book hungry for more, more relationships, more emotion, more culture, more pages! Why did it have to end? Quite unbelievable that this could be Victoria Hislop's first published novel. Fabulous.
There are a number of reviews about this book so i have tried to view it from a new angle - maybe I have failed but I hope not I have not told the story I have tried to look beyond that and not spoil it for readers to come.
This novel is the debut novel of Victoria Hislop, wife of Ian Hislop the editor of Private Eye. Prior to her novel writing she was a travel journalist and both this book and her next novel, 'The Return' are based in foreign lands, Crete and Spain respectively.
The Island is an international bestseller not sure if this was helped by he fact that it was selected by Richard and Judy for their Summer Read and thus got publicity on their show. It also won the "Newcomer of the Year" Award at the Galaxy British Book Awards 2007. Since this time it has been translated into more than a dozen languages.
I was given this book by my daughter as we are going to Crete in the next couple of weeks and I do enjoy books based in places where I have been or I am going. When I read the blurb on the back I wasn't sure as it mentions it is a story around the leper colony on the island of Spinlonga near Plaka in Crete. Despite this initial trepidation I decided I would go for it.
The story is a young girl's search to find her mother's past that she has never spoken of. The reader hears the story through an old friend of Alexis' mothers and I became so engrossed in that story that I forgot the original character and how she fitted in the history we were hearing.
I found the book was one that I looked forward to reading again after I left off but it was not the sort of story that you could not put down. It was not gripping or exciting, more interesting and intriguing. It is a story of relationships, love, betrayal, loyalty and secrets not an action story.
The characters are sympathetically portrayed and the life style of the people of Crete at the time is brought to life. We are left with a good idea of how Cretan people lived in the small fishing villages and also some idea about how the Nazi occupation affected their lives too.
I found this to be a well written, sensitive story with interesting characters. The fact that it was set in Crete made me want to find out more about the places she mentions in the book when I go in August.
I also learned quite a bit about leprosy and at the end of the book there is more information about leprosy which is still a major disease in countries outside Europe. I quote from this page;
"In 2004 over 400,000 new cases were diagnosed, around 70% in India".
I had no idea that leprosy was still such a major problem.
Underneath the information about leprosy there is a paragraph about the charity LEPRA and the work that is done by this charity. "It costs £21 to help cure a person of leprosy", which is a small amount compared to what we spend on face cream or perfume - it made me feel rather humble.
I do quite like it when there is more information about a fact that is central to a story I have read so this was a clever idea. It hopefully will also raise the awareness of this disease to the western world.
An easy book to read that deals with issues around an awful disease with sensitivity and a lot of hope. A novel about relationships and family set in the island of Crete around the time of WWII. And just after. It was an easy book to read as it was very well written in a light reading style, it dealt with serious issues but was not an academic heavy read. I would recommend this if you enjoy reading something quite light but not an action/thriller type of book.
'The Island' by Victoria Hislop is the winner of 'The Galaxy British Book Awards' - such accolades always attract me to a book. I also liked the book cover showing the lonely boat with two people in it. This prompted me to read the blurb. I discovered it was about Crete and the book was already in my shopping basket.
Victoria Hislop is the wife of funny man satirist, Ian Hislop and this is her first novel (she has done lots of writing in the form of journalism previously). She also won 'The Richard & Judy Summer Read' competition.
This is a book about finding out about the past a bit like a 'Where do I come From?' tv programme. The person finding out is a young woman called Alexis who keeps asking her tight-lipped mother (who hails from Crete) about her grandmother and family. She gets nowhere and it is all a bit of a frustrating mystery to Alexis. Finally, Alexis arranges to go to Crete with her rubbish boyfriend, Ed and her mum gives her a letter to take to an old friend called Fotini who lives in Plaka. Once in Crete, Alexis hot-tails it to Plaka meaning only to stay for an afternoon but ends up staying a few days (having deserted her bloke, Ed in the town of Hania).
Once in Plaka, she sees the tiny deserted island of Spinalonga from the shore of the village. She learns it is the former leper colony. A Greek woman offers her aged husband to Alexis to row her across. Alexis sees Spinalionga in its decrepit, deserted state. On her return she meets Fotini who begins to relate the much longed for tale of the past.
It turns out that Alexis' great-grandmother, Eleni and her two daughters, Maria and Anna and their father, Giorgis were all tied up in the history of the leper colony. Alexis learns that anyone with leprosy is sent to the island to live until they die so that they do not infect anyone else. She learns that one day, when her daughters were still quite young, Eleni discovers she has leprosy and is then exiled to Spinalonga. Giorgis has to row his wife across because it is his job to row all lepers across. If this is not heartbreaking enough ( you cannot help but put yourself in this family's shoes), some time later the youngest daughter, Maria discovers she also has leprosy and off she goes too.
I will relate no more of this story as it unfolds in the two different strands of the sisters' lives resulting in fascinating discoveries both for Alexis - and for us as readers.
Alexis does not figure too much in the story; I didn't feel much empathy with her or her boyfriend. I did wonder at the fact that he had just been dumped in Hania whilst she swanned off in a hire car - leaving him Ed No-mates in the hotel. I kind of understood him being a bit peeved when she got back at the end.
I liked the characters from the past better: the devoted mother and teacher Eleni ripped from her young family but making the best of it in the new community of Spinalonga, Lovely, sweet Maria, the good daughter and Anna who was more the tarty, wayward daughter - and then Giorgis - seeming to be in a permanent state of stoic grief. I was interested in them and cared what happened to them all - and this made the book a great read.
What I learned about Spinalonga
I have been on holiday to Crete (twice) some years ago so I read a little about Spinalonga in guide books but I never visited. However, I learned much about the horrid process of leper exile from this novel. It made it so much more of a subjective experience and also put it in context in terms of recent history - eg how WW2 impacted in the communities of Plaka and Spinalonga. I was rivetted when reading about Eleni's devastation about her forced departure but her quiet dignity in all of it.
If I had read this book before I went to Crete, I would definitely have wanted to visit Spinalonga. The descriptions of the deserted (almost ghost)town are both poignant and disturbing - telling together the story of life and death.
I learned ultimately that Sofia, Alexis' mother still harboured the deep shame that leprosy brought on families - and this is the reason she is so tight-lipped.
I also know a bit more about the terrible - but now curable - disease of leprosy. In the end, Spinalonga was left deserted because everybody (who had not already died) had been cured and allowed back home. Unfortunately, I believe that leprosy is still a killer disease in developing countries due to the lack of equity in healthcare.
This is indeed a great holiday book, especially if you are going to Crete. It has the wonderful flavour of Greece (I love Greek Islands) and it is not hard to picture yourself in any of the situations described in the book - be they good or bad. I did not find it difficult to read although I was anxious to get into the real nitty-gritty of the story.
This is a book that I really wanted to read, and finally managed to get hold of a copy in February. However I seem to have had a period of chronic book addiction in the last few months, and have had more books coming into my home than I am actually reading. Unfortunately this book kept finding it's way further and further towards the back of my shelf as I'd start reading new books, instead of concentrating on the ones I'd had languishing for a while. Enough is enough i thought recently, promised myself I will not acquire any more books and start reading the ones that I'd had the longest first.
The synopsis on the back of this book tells us that the story is about 25 year old Alexis Fielding, who is on the brink of a life changing decision. Curious about her Cretan Mother, Sofia's past due to her reluctance to ever talk about it, Alexis confronts her. Sofia is still unable to acknowledge her past life in Plaka, a small village in Crete, so send Alexis off with a letter to give to an old friend, Fotini. And so Alexis sets of on a voyage of discovery to find out about her Great-grandmother, Eleni, her Grandmother Anna and Aunt Maria, and their connection to the island of Spinalonga, a former leper colony just a stones throw from Plaka.
Given the synopsis I was surprised to find that Alexis features very little in the book, probably in around 40 pages both at the beginning and the back. Her 'life-changing' decision didn't really come across as all that important, and I found it difficult to understand her motives behind her deep desire to know about her mother's past. We weren't really given the impression of a deep dark secret her mother had gaurded and had hung over the family, rather that she suddenly at 25 years old decided to ask 'hey Mum, what about when you lived in Crete?' There is not much point in her other than to introduce the 'real' story to the reader.
The book quickly moved into the real story though, sweeping back in time to 1939 and focusing on Eleni, her husband Georgiou and her daughters and becomes a tale of a family rent apart, battling against ignorance and prejudice and the strength of the human spirit to adapt, survive and carry on loving and hoping.
I have to be honest, I know very little about leprosy and had never even heard of Spinalonga (in fact I had to look it up on the internet to find out if it really existed or was a fictional place...ignorance on my behalf I believe). However I found the descriptions of life on the island fascinating. It amazes and inspires me the strength of humans, in this case wrenched from their families and ostracised on a rural island, and creating a civilised, democratic and working community.
The author tells the story from a multitude of view points. While this prose has the risk of becoming confusing, I never felt it did in this book. Victoria Hislop cleverly manages to describe an event or place by switching the character experiencing it. An example of this is when a new Doctor, Dr. Kyritis, arrives on Spinalonga, we find out the progress that has been made over eighteen months from what he see's. I found this kept the story moving pretty quickly, and never got bogged down in over detail or tedium from one particular character.
Of course the flip side to this style of writing is that we never really get to know the main characters and what they actually feel in any great detail. I feel this was particularly lost on Anna, Alexis's grandmother, who was a complex character, with many negative qualities. While I wanted to understand why she was like this, and feel empathy with her, I was unable to and just disliked her and didn't really care. Her sister Maria was a different matter however, and came across as likeable as her sister was detestable, and I really championed this tragic character. The silent star of this book though had to be, for me Georgiou. A simple man of very little words, his actions spoke volumes and I admired this loyal and courageous man.
I found the book very easy to read, the descriptions of rural Crete to be just as I imagine it to be (although I have never been there) and the characters to be completely believable. I couldn't say I was engrossed with the book, however I always looked forward to picking it up. I very rarely got bored by the book either, I did find that it started dip and loose my interest in the middle slightly however that soon picked up. I felt I became involved with the story, and rejoiced with the good which came to the characters and sad and angry for the bad.
The Island seems to have come in for a a fair bit of criticism, amongst the hundreds of raving reviews on Amazon, by people who believe this book reinforces old prejudices against leprosy. I would have to disagree with that. The book is written to depict an era when prejudice and ignorance where very prevelant, so to exclude them from the book would be ludicrous. Rather than spark a prejudice in me, it has made me aware of the plight of leprosy suffers both past and present. I now know that while eradicated in Europe, Leprosy still affects a massive amount of people in the developing world and costs just £21 to treat. The inhabitants of Spinalonga were cured and released in 1957, just 50 years ago, yet people are still suffering, dying and being ostracised by a curable illness.
The Island is described on the front of the cover as a 'beach read with heart' (a quote I have stolen for my review title) and I would say that's a good description. Its easy and fast paced enough to enjoy, without getting bogged down in medical fact, and still gritty enough to have an enlightening or moral purpose. Ultimately though, this is a love story and a moving tale of family loyalty and a thoroughly enjoyable one at that.
Review of 'The Island' by Victoria Hislop.
I am reviewing the paperback format of the novel. It contains 496 pages, ISBN 0755309510, was first published 10/04/2006 and the genre classification is Modern Fiction. RRP £7.99
The Island is the first novel from Victoria Hislop.
Alexis Fielding is a modern twenty five year old woman. She has a degree in archeology and a consuming interest in the past, a trait she shares with her father, Marcus. Alexis mother, Sophia is Cretan by birth but moved to England as a young woman. Sophia has always been reticent about her early years and has told Alexis and her brother Nick very little about their maternal heritage.
Alexis plans a holiday to Greece, the main purpose of the holiday is to decide whether she wants to move in with with her boyfriend, Ed. Ed is a go getter and a head boy type of man, Alexis is unsure whether she really does want to live with him. She decides that she will visit Crete during the trip in order to see the village where her mother, Sophia grew up. Alexis tries to press her mother for information about her family, eventually, Sophia gives Alexis a letter for an old friend called Fotini who still lives in the Cretan village, Plaka. Sophia rather mysteriously tells Alexis that Fotini will explain certain things to her.
Alexis arrives in Plaka on a hot and sultry afternoon. She finds that the village is fairly remote, a small village situated on the coast and directly opposite an island. Alexis finds the cafe bar that is run by Fotini and her family, where she is given a very warm welcome by her Mother's old friend. She inquires about the island located just across the bay and is astounded to find that used to be used as a Leper colony and was in fact Greece's main leper colony from 1903 to 1957.
People suffering from leprosy would be removed from their homes and families and forced to live on the island until they died. The island was called Spinalonga and it was a completely self ruled and almost self sufficient community. Doctors would visit to tend the sick in the purpose built hospital, the island had shops, a school, church and the residents lead a full life once they accepted that Spinalonga was now their last ever home.
Alexis finds a boatman to take her to the now deserted island and spends a day among the now derelict buildings, taking in the atmosphere and peace of the place. On her return, Fotini begins to tell Alexis of her family's history. As the story unfolds, Alexis is stunned to discover that she is intimately connected with the tiny island of Spinalonga. Her own family was rent apart by the horror of the leprosy disease when her great grandmother, a local teacher named Eleni was struck with the disease. Eleni was torn from her husband and two daughters and banished to Spinalonga.
Alexis' great grandfather was a boatman who had been employed to ferry lepers, doctors and other visitors to the island and when his wife was sent to live on the leper colony, he was luckier than most as he was able to snatch a few precious minutes with his wife. Lepers who tried to get off the island ran the risk of being shot.
The plot moves with an easy flow and covers in great detail, leprosy, the various treatments that were tried, and the effects that the illness and then World War 2, had on Alexis' family. She comes to realise that her mother has harboured shame and resentment for the stigma that leprosy carried in her youth.
I will not reveal anymore of the storyline or the eventual outcome for fear of spoiling the book for others, but I will stress that this haunting novel has enough twists and turns and technical detail to keep you enthralled.
Victoria Hislop was born on 8th June 1959 in Bromley, Kent. She studied at St Hilda's College, Oxford and after university, Victoria's first job was in book publishing. From there she moved into advertising and public relations. When she had children, she became as a freelance journalist, she wrote on education and parenting for the Daily Telegraph, general features for women's magazines and travel writing for The Sunday Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday.
Victoria Hislop's first novel 'The Island' has been an international bestseller. It was selected for the Richard and Judy Summer Read competition and won Victoria the "Newcomer of the Year" Award at the Galaxy British Book Awards 2007. It has been translated into more than a dozen languages.
Victoria Hislop currently lives in a 500 year old house in the beautiful village of Sissinghurst, Kent. She is married to Private Eye and television satirist Ian Hislop, they have two children.
More about Victoria Hislop can be found on her website, which was also my source for the personal information about the author.
Availability, publisher and cost
338 Euston Road
Jacket price of The Island is the RRP of £7.99, however the book can be obtained from www.amazon.co.uk for £5.11 new or 1p used.
I was given this book in 2007 by my aunt, who like myself is a veritable bookworm. We both read an eclectic selection of books and often pass our books on to each other. When she gave me The Island, she warned me that it was addictive reading. How right she was!
For a first novel, Ms Hislop has achieved nothing short of a masterpiece. The novel covers family secrets and drama, passion, war, the conditions and treatment of the residents of Spinalonga Leper colony. The plot is unusual and fast moving and the characters are superbly drawn. The storyline has all the elements that a good novel should contain, a real page turner but in a gentle fashion, no violence or disturbing behaviour, but a thought provoking, emotionally charged plot. The author must have conducted an immense amount of research into leprosy in order to write such a hauntingly lifelike account of life in a leper colony.
As I said, I was given this novel in 2007, I read and enjoyed it and have never really forgotten the novel. A month or two ago, I was waiting for my other half at the opticians. The receptionist was chatting away telling me about her recent holiday. It turned out that she had been to Crete and had visited Spinalonga. This incident reminded me that I wanted to re-read 'The Island' which I did. I have to say that I enjoyed the book just as much the second time around.
I would heartily recommend this novel to others, it is a remarkable book and the actual story line is haunting and memorable, in my opinion because it is fiction based on factual events.
Thank you for reading.
©brittle1906 May 2009
Also posted on www.ciao.co.uk under same name.
Alexis, on holiday in Crete, goes on holiday to Crete and seeks out an old friend of her mother's. Her mother would never talk about her past, growing up on Crete, and Alexis hopes to get some answers. She travels to Plaka, and while there is transfixed by the island of Spinalonga, a former leper colony.
This is a really great book. I was interested in the character of Alexis immediately, however the majority of the book was a flashback to more than 50 years ago, telling the story of the history of Alexis's family and their connection with Spinalonga. I similarly empathised with all the major characters, and found I learned a lot about leprosy along the way.
The book didn't hook me in the way many books (mostly thrillers) do. It's pace is much slower, but you always want to keep reading, and the reading itself is a joy, as it is beautifully written. It conjures up images of summer holidays in Greece too, which can't be a bad thing!
Since reading the novel, I have visited the island of Spinalonga where the book was set while on holiday in Crete, and can attest that the author has done an excellent job of bringing the place to life.
Note - this review was first written in a shortened form and posted by me on librarything.com
The Island is Victoria Hislop's debut novel. It was promoted by Richard and Judy in 2006 and was recommended to me by a friend as the perfect reading for my holiday in Crete. I bought the paperback and took it with me but after a few pages found it just wasn't all that gripping. Anyway I was just too busy touring Crete to find much time to read! I recently picked it up again and decided to to give it another go.
The story begins with 25 year old Alexis Fielding on holiday in Crete with her handsome lawyer boyfriend Ed. She has gone off to spend some time on her own to learn something about the Cretan side of her family and to try and make a decision about whether to move in with Ed, wondering if there was any point living with him if their intention wasn't to marry.
Alexis reflects that at her age her mother Sofia had already been married for several years with two children. She wants to know how her mother had approached life in order to help her make her own decision, but her mother has always been secretive about her past, something that has created a barrier between them.
Alexis had always been intrigued by an old photo of her dead Aunt Maria and Uncle Nikolaos, relations her mother has been reluctant to speak about. Now finally her mother Sofia has given Alexis a letter of introduction to old friends of hers who still live in the Cretan village where she grew up. Alexis is determined to find out the mysteries of her family's past.
Her journey first takes her to the small island of Spinalonga, just off the north coast of Crete, which was used as a leper colony from 1903 until 1957.
'Spinalonga. She played with the word, rolling it around her tongue like an olive stone. The island lay directly ahead, and as the boat approached the great Venetian fortification which fronted the sea, she felt both the pull of its past and an overpowering sense of what it still meant in the present. This, she speculated, might be a place where history was still warm, not stone cold, where the inhabitants were real not mythical.' (page 5)
After that she visits her mother's old friend Fotini who proceeds to fill her in on her family's background. Most of the book is taken up by Fotini's narrative. It tells of Alexis's great grandparents, Eleni and Georgiou Petrakis and their children Anna and Maria, and their tragic connection with Spinalonga. The story spans the years from 1939 to 2001, coming back to the beginning of the book and the final impact that the events on Crete have had on Sofia's life.
It's a meticulously researched and competently written book rich in detail about the history of Spinalonga and the German invasion of Crete. Really it was the historical aspect that kept me reading, because somehow most of the characters didn't sufficiently come to life. Victoria Hislop races through 62 years detailing a large number of characters, their relationships and traditions, as well as the progress of the leper treatment on Spinalonga.
Pages and pages at a time are taken up with narrative without dialogue, and this I think, is where it becomes difficult to engage with the characters. There is just too much crammed into one novel and there isn't time to fit in the dialogue that would make the characters leap off the page for me. I suspect that after doing all that meticulous research, the author got absorbed in making use of it, instead of dipping into it to give a backdrop to her story.
I also felt that in some ways although she had told the reader many facts about Crete, she had failed to capture the atmosphere. The thing that struck me about Crete from the moment of getting off the plane was the smell of the mountain herbs that permeate the air. Although the author talks about the practical uses of herbs, she never mentions this. She mentions Lasithi Plateau, high in the mountains, but not the way the clouds hang in the air below you. She describes Alexis' surprise at seeing that Spinalonga has a shopping street, but fails to mention that these little shops are now museums with war photos and a shockingly disturbing collection of medical instruments used to treat the lepers.
It's quite an easy read, with a satisfactory ending, but it left me with a feeling that it was really just a synopsis for something much bigger. At 473 pages long, the author could have easily made this into three novels, taking more time to develop the characters and evoke the atmosphere of Crete. It's a story that's similar in many ways to Captain Corelli's Mandolin, but not so well crafted.
If you're visiting Crete, it's probably worth a read before you go, as it will give a good idea of the people and the recent history of the island.
The Island - Victoria Hislop
Now I am a big reader when I get the chance. On a weeks holiday I am known to read a book a day. Usually I go for the same age old Chick-lit stuff, but recently I have been trying to broaden my horizons and read books that I wouldnt normally.
The Island is one such book.
The author is Victoria Hislop, and this is her first novel.
It is set on the Greek Island of Crete and in particular a small island just away from the mainland called Spinalonga which is where lepers were banished to die.
A young lady Alexis, is on holiday with her boyfriend, and sets off to discover more about her Cretan mothers past. She meets one of her mothers old friends, and she tells Alexis the story of her family.
Anna and Maria are sisters; Anna is high maintenance, interested only in boys and a way out of the boring village that she lives in, whereas Maria is more dedicated to looking after the family and the home. In particular looking after her father since her mother was banished to Spinalonga.
The tale unfolds with Maria contracting leprosy and moving out to Spinalonga and all of the connotations that go with that, both for her and for her family.
The book really makes you think about leprosy and how once you have been diagnosed the will not to give up and to make the most of the life you have left. It also makes you think about the way you react around people who have been diagnosed with the disease.
I found the book to be really insightful. It was very easy to read, and it made me laugh and cry.
This book is an enjoyable thought provoking read and was one that I really enjoyed reading. The book takes the reader on an emotional roller coaster and it is all about a characters self discovery set against the back ground of the delightful Greek Islands.
The main character is a young girl Alexis who gtogthere with her long term boyfriend Ed takes a trip to the Greek Islands which terminates in Crete. On the trip Alexis is carrying a note from her mother who was raised on Crete in a village called Plaka, the note is fo one of her mothers friends called Fotini and the notes asks her to explain to Alexis her mothers past, something she has never been keen to speak of before.
By now Alexis is on her own having left Ed and as such she goes on this journey of iscovery on her own and learns of a link between her family and a leper colony that existed on a near by island.
This is a wonderfully well crafted story that is very moving in its content and certainly dida good job of holding my attention. Usually I like my books to not be such heavy going, I prefer comedy and satire but this is well worth reading.
There are lots of interesting characters and the descriptive passages do a good job of capturing the Greek Islands charms and culture.