- Headline Publishing Group
- Publication Date:
- 24 May 2012
- Modern & Contemporary
Showing 1-2 out of 2 reviews.
I was very eager to read the third book by Victoria Hislop as I have really loved her other work. I was anticipating a solid read with believable characters that would bring a significant period in time vividly to life (as have her other novels), and this story set in Greece during pivotal moments in the country's history did not fail to deliver.The novel begins in present day Greece where a young man is told the story of how his grandparents met and their relationship unfolded and as the plot develops he begins to realise why his grandparents are so staunchly patriotic and why their hearts will always belong in Greece. Going back decades, the book takes in the true stories of the population swap, the great fire of Thessaloniki and the German occupation of the island during World War II. The book encompasses poverty, civil war, communism, heartache, anti-Semitism and conflicting family relationships against a beautiful city backdrop. The narrative is tied together superbly and the two main protagonists- Katerina and Dimitri, are wonderfully written people who the reader can wholly believe in and emphasise with.Aside from the great characterisation and the way the writing flows so eloquently, I did really love the intricate details of the sewing and fabrics mentioned as well. It was conveyed in such a descriptive way that fit in perfectly with the rest of the prose. Also, I feel that I gained a lot of knowledge about a period in history that I knew very little about, though in a way that did not feel too preachy- the information was divulged in a very effortless, natural way which I feel is this author's biggest skill. Also, given that her writing is so smooth, I feel that the horrors of war that are then detailed have all the more impact on the reader. By the end of the book, I felt that I knew a lot about not only the events that had occurred, but a lot about the textile industry and Thessaloniki itself.Though ultimately I enjoyed this book, I have to say that I did feel it unfortunately suffered the same fate as Hislop's other books to date: too abrupt an ending. My only real criticism is that everything felt very crammed into the final few chapters, which after investing so much time in the rest of the novel and getting to know the characters at a languid, absorbing pace, was a bit disappointing.If you enjoy well written contemporary fiction with a bit of culture and history, then I think you will find this to be a worthwhile read. Fans of Hislop's other novels will also definitely appreciate this book- and if you haven't read one of her works before, then this would be a great place to start- though my favourite novel of hers is still `The Island' to date. I think that this would also make an excellent, absorbing holiday read.
Greece has always been one of those places I'd love to see someday. But I, like so many other people, have always focused my future plans on Athens and the major historical sites there without too much thought to the rest of Greece, including the country's second largest city, Thessaloniki, a city with which I was almost entirely unfamiliar. Victoria Hislop's newest historical saga, The Thread, changes that, offering an intimate look at the changing face of the city since early in the twentieth century all the way up until today.Opening with nonagenarians Dimitri and Katerina Komninos meeting up with their grandson, university student Mitsos, and offering him the reason behind their passionate refusal to ever leave Thessaloniki to live near their children in England or America, this is the tale of a vibrant city, a country's history, and an enduring love. Dimitri Komninos is born in 1917 into a thriving Thessaloniki peacefully populated by Christians, Jews, and Muslims. His birth has been long awaited by his wealthy father and his beautiful mother and he arrives just as the Thessaloniki is consumed by a raging fire that destroys nearly the entire city. As his father rebuilds their fabric empire first and eventually the showpiece home overlooking the sea, Dimitri and his mother live on Irini Street, in the humble home in which his mother grew up surrounded by as sorts of different and wonderful people. Dimitri's character is formed here in the loving and tolerant atmosphere. Katerina is a Greek born in Smyrna who escaped the atrocities in that city on a refuge boat but in the process was separated from her mother and infant sister. She is taken under the wing of a surrogate mother, Eugenia, and becomes a small but loved part of that family as they make their way to Thessaloniki. And it is to Irini Street and the home of the Muslim family who were sent to Turkey along with the rest of the city's Muslim inhabitants that Katerina Sarafoglou and her adopted family come to settle in and make a new life. Katerina and Dimitri and the rest of the children on the street play and grow together until finally the new Komninos mansion is complete and Dimitri and his mother are removed by his cold and determined father from the unsuitable and too democratic Irini Street. And from this point onward, Katerina and Dimitri meet mostly by chance as they live the lives expected of them. Katerina learns embroidery and becomes one of the city's most accomplished seamstresses. Dimitri goes to school and is determined to become a doctor. When World War II intrudes, Dimitri joins the Greeks fighting against the Italian invasion and then stays on in the mountains with the communists to resist the German occupation. Katerina works for the Moreno family, a Jewish family who own the very best tailoring shop in Thessaloniki and dear neighbors on Irini Street, all of them initially protected because of their skill. Butthe Morenos, like the rest of Thessaloniki's Jewish population, are eventually taken to Poland on Hitler's trains.The city of Thessaloniki suffers blow after blow as the history of the twentieth century and that of Greece as a whole is writ large upon its streets and its people. Katerina and Dimitri's experiences at the heart of the upheavals are completely realistic given the place that they live. And through all of it, from the fire in 1917 that heralds Dimitri's birth to 2007 as they share their long and complicated story with their grandson, they have persevered, tried to make their world a good place, and simply lived their lives the best they possibly could because even in the face of disappointment, tragedy, joy, and celebration, life goes on.The framing device of telling the story to Mitsos is a bit distracting in the beginning but comes to feel natural by the end of the novel. As simply the repository of the tale, Mitsos is undeveloped and his reaction to his grandparents' story is perhaps unearned as a result. But Dimitri and Katerina are well-developed characters and their choices throughout the story feel authentic. The political tension between Dimitri and his father is completely absolute even when Dimitri realizes that none of the groups fighting has clean hands and his realization is never fully explored as it might make his father a bit less of a villain although given his collaberation with the Germans, that's unlikely. The love story between Dimitri and Katerina is muted by their experiences and the necessity and commitments they each have so it's really not the forefront of the novel but that suits the historical saga aspect better. The ending feels telescoped, with the years up until and including the 50's drawn out and elaborately told and the years following the recovery from the war quickly sketched in bare bones. Over all though, this was a fascinating look at a place about which I knew so little and a time in history that played out similarly but with unique permutations all over the world.
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