Intricate, beautifully observed and with a painter’s eye for imagery, in these stories Hislop evokes Greece, its people, its customs and traditions with a sensitivity that reveals her deep knowledge of not just the place but also the human condition.
A new collection of short stories by Victoria Hislop*
In ten powerful stories, Victoria Hislop takes us through the streets of Athens and into the tree-lined squares of Greek villages. As she evokes their distinct atmosphere, she brings vividly to life a host of unforgettable characters, from a lonesome priest to battling brothers, and from an unwanted stranger to a groom troubled by music and memory.
These bittersweet tales of love and loyalty, of separation and reconciliation, captured in Victoria Hislop’s unique voice, will stay with you long after you reach the end.
(*Three of these stories were previously published in Victoria Hislop’s ebook collection, One Cretan Evening.)
Victoria Hislop’s 2005 novel The Island was translated into more than twenty languages and topped best-seller lists in Greece and the UK. As her eagerly-awaited new book The Thread is published, Mike Sweet talks to the British author
After a career in PR and journalism, Victoria Hislop published her first novel The Island in her mid-forties. A multi-generational saga set against the backdrop of the Spinalonga leprosy colony in Crete, The Island was by any measure, a publishing sensation.
Her new novel The Thread is a romantic saga entwined with the turbulent 20th century history of Thessaloniki, and continues to reflect a love affair with Greece, that is as deep and passionate as that felt by any non-Greek author writing today.
“Yes, the truth is, I think I’m obsessed with Greece,” says Victoria, who I’ve managed to catch before she heads to Athens from London for the Greek launch of The Thread.
Today Greece is Victoria’s second home. She owns a family house on Crete (near Aghios Nikalaos) and speaks Greek fluently. Her three-week tour of Greek cities will promote the new novel and its launch in Thessaloniki will be the most poignant.
The Thread is a tribute to that city and its citizens, and their desperate story that unravelled in the first half of the last century. The new book is Hislop’s most ambitious to date. In both its historical scope and in terms of its small ‘p’ political, as well as romantic narrative, it interweaves the lives of its characters into the backcloth of Greek history over three generations.
The Thread touches on deep and sensitive themes: the effects of the Asia Minor ‘Catastrophe’, anti-Semitism and the Civil War. As in The Island, Hislop partly tells the story through the voice of the family today, travelling through time, connecting the past with the present.
In the first chapters of The Thread the reader is transported to Thessaloniki harbour in May 1923. A teeming mass of Greek refugees from Turkey pours from a ship, newly swapped for Greece’s Muslim population. It is a scene of one of the most painful exchanges of peoples ever conceived. Among them is five-year-old Katerina Sarafoglou. Separated from her mother in their flight from Smyrna, Katerina is adopted by Eugenia, another refugee. When they are allocated a new home, Dimitri Komninos, the son of a rich, authoritarian merchant, is among their neighbours.
The eventual relationship between seamstress Katerina and Dimitri forms the backbone of The Thread. Beside the lovers’ narrative, the tortuous story of Thessaloniki is drawn out through the experience of the two families and their friends – Christian, Jewish, and Muslim. “It is a homage to the city,” says Hislop, who first visited Thessaloniki five years ago when she was invited by the university to talk about The Island.
Reading about the population exchange convinced the author that the subject would be the starting point for a new novel. “I hadn’t realised what a huge impact this exchange had on Greece. I thought if I didn’t know about this, then most who read my books also don’t know.” One of Hislop’s favourite pastimes on her visits to the city was to sit in a Niki street cafe and look across the water to Mount Olympus. It was here that the two main characters in The Thread first appeared to her.
“I’m very aware of the different stature, the different style of older people in Mediterranean countries. They’re always much smaller, always frail but also strong. I was sitting drinking my lovely coffee, and there was a particular elderly couple on the seafront that I watched surreptitiously, if anything, they’re the inspiration for Dimitri and Katerina.”
Given the success of The Island and To Nisi, and the added dimension and scope of The Thread, the new novel promises to elevate Hislop further as an internationally acclaimed author.
Her storytelling, as has been proved by the remarkable To Nisi production, can also be transferred to the screen with huge commercial potential. Hislop was recently approached by a large British film company who wished to make the The Island into a major feature film. But the discerning author isn’t about to agree to just any invitation, however financially appealing.
“I sat there finding myself saying, ‘no I’m not really interested at the moment’,” says Hislop, “because I don’t think at the moment anything can be better than the To Nisi production. I don’t want to rush into something else.”
Hislop describes the reaction in Greece to To Nisi as overwhelming, but she wasn’t surprised by the audience’s response to the series, which had a production budget of four million euro. “I knew from the first day of filming that it was going to be something out of the ordinary. It had the best actors, the director Theodoris Papadoulakis is immensely talented, and it had the most amazing music and costumes. It’s ecstatic reception was deserved.”
Talking about The Thread, Victoria says that although she consciously avoided reflecting on Greece’s current crisis and its repercussions, the story nevertheless has some underlying connections.
“I hope people will read it and think ‘gosh this tiny country has had a very rough time, and very often it’s not the fault of the people’. “There is a link with now, a kind of a continuum of catastrophe that leads right up to the present day.” One thing is clear when talking to Victoria: her passion and empathy for Greece is not something shallow and cosmetic, and far from a commercial convenience.
Horrified to hear that Greek schools’ budgets had been so severely cut, that there was no budget this term for books, Victoria is doing something about it.
“I had emails from teachers in schools, people I’d probably met at signings saying we’ve come back to school and the kids just have a notebook. To me it’s like hearing they’re not eating properly, they’re being mentally starved,” says Victoria. As well as donating her own works, she has now embarked on a campaign to persuade fellow authors who are being published in Greek, and their publishers, to donate quantities of their books directly to the schools.
“I’ve got two other British writers on board so far,” says Victoria, “Giles Milton, who wrote the very successful book on Smyrna Paradise Lost, and Anthony Horowitz, the children’s novelist. They too are very fond of Greece.” “I don’t know where it’s going to go at the moment, it’s just in the early stages. I’d like it to snowball, I really want to do something, and this is an area where maybe I can help.” Plainly, Victoria Hislop’s actions speak as loudly as her words.
A collection of five short stories by Victoria , along with a preview of the first chapter of her upcoming novel The Thread, is published as an e-book exclusive on 15 September priced £1.99.
The stories (One Cretan Evening, The Pine Tree, By the Fire, The Warmest Christmas Ever and Aflame in Athens) are set in Greece and in England, told in Victoria’s unique voice. The ebook also includes a sneak preview of the opening chapter of ‘The Thread’, Victoria’s new novel: a powerful tale of love and loyalty, of family and loss set against the turbulent history of the city of Thessaloniki, Greece.
‘One Cretan Evening’ can be bought from all online retailers,
Victoria Hislop’s new novel, “The Thread”, is published by Headline books on October 27.
Thessaloniki, 1917. As Dimitri Komninos is born, a fire sweeps through the thriving multicultural city, where Christians, Jews and Moslems live side by side. It is the first of many catastrophic events that will change for ever this city, as war, fear and persecution begin to divide its people. Five years later, young Katerina escapes to Greece when her home in Asia Minor is destroyed by the Turkish army. Losing her mother in the chaos, she finds herself on a boat to an unknown destination. From that day the lives of Dimitri and Katerina become entwined, with each other and with the story of the city itself.
Thessaloniki, 2007. A young Anglo-Greek hears the life story of his grandparents for the first time and realises he has a decision to make. For many decades, they have looked after the memories and treasures of people who have been forcibly driven from their beloved city. Should he become their new custodian? Should he stay or should he go?
For more information on ‘The Thread’ and the troubled history of Thessaloniki, click here.
“‘The Thread’ is a more ambitious novel than her previous books, more expansive in its sweep of history, more controversial in its political stance. Her many, many fans will be delighted with what is her best novel yet.” The Scotsman (full review)
“Hislop … is very good at interweaving the lives of individuals into the backcloth of great events… this is a writer of laudably high ambition and it would only take a small nudge to move her to a whole new level. Recommended” Daily Mail (full review)
[wtab name=”Trailer”][youtube]http://youtu.be/V_lGE0O09AI[/youtube][/wtab] [wtab name=”Background reading to The Thread”]
All novels which use history as a backdrop require and deserve diligent research into the world the writer hopes to portray. These are some of the books I read during my research for ‘The Thread’. In addition to these, there are others in the London Library, in the Modern Greek History section as well as in the Embroidery section:
Concise History of Greece – Richard Clogg
Hellas – Nikolaos Gatzogiannis
Remember Greece – Dilys Powell
The Colossus of Maroussi – Henry Miller
The Hill of Kronos – Peter Levi
92 Archanon Street – John Lucas
Greek Fire – Nicholas Gage
Salonica, City of Ghosts – Mazower
Chronicle of the Big Fire – Yerolympos
Farewell to Salonika – Leon Sciaky
Twice a Stranger – Bruce Clark
Heirs of the Greek Catastrophe – Renee Hirshon
Population Exchange and Rural Settlement of Refugees – Kontogiorgi
The Unmixing of Turks and Greeks – Nansen Memorial Lecture – Huntford
Crossing the Aegean – edited by Renee Hirshon
I was sent to Athens – Morgenthau
Smyrna: The Destruction of a City – Marjorie Housepian Dobkin
Paradise Lost, Smyrna 1922 – Giles Milton
The Balkan Exchange of Minorities – Dimitri Pentzopoulos
Greece and the Greek Refugees – Eddy
Beyond the Aegean – Elia Kazan
Christ Recrucified – Kazantzakis
Motherland – Dmetri Kakmi
Not Even My Name – Thea Halo
Farewell Anatolia – Dido Sotiriou
The Mermaid Madonna – Stratis Myrivilis
Secrets of the Bosphorous – Morgenthau
The Jewish Community of Salonika – Bea Lewcowicz
The Illusion of Safety – Michael Matsas
From Thessaloniki to Auschwitz and Back – Kounio Amariglio
The Holocaust in Salonica: Eyewitness Accounts – Ed. Steve Bowman
Greece – A Jewish History – Fleming
Road to Rembetika – Gail Holst
The House by the Sea – Fromer
The Origins of the Greek Civil War – Close
Greek Civil War – O’Ballance
Becoming a Subject: Political Prisoners – Polymeris Voglis
After the War was Over – Ed. Mark Mazower
Eleni – Nicholas Gage
Sephardi and Middle Eastern Jewries – ed. Goldberg
The Island” is selected by The Times as one of the 100 books that defined the decade
Never in the history of bookselling has there been such a phenomenon as Harry Potter; JK Rowling’s series sold in tens of millions and appealed to adults as well as children. The great success of the British book trade this decade was the Richard & Judy Book Club. It ran in the late afternoon on Channel 4, and made instant bestsellers of Victoria Hislop, Audrey Niffenegger and Zoë Heller, among others. The 100 titles they selected sold 30 million copies.
A decade defined in Britain by Tony Blair is represented in this list by two revealing books about the making of New Labour and the rivalries, quarrels and often poisonous relationships among the leading personalities – Cherie Blair’s memoir and Alastair Campbell’s diaries.
Across the world, it was a decade defined in blood by al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks on America, which precipitated the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – see books by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Ed Husain, Ahmed Rashid and Khaled Hosseini.
It was also the decade of often tawdry celebrities, such as Russell Brand and Ashley Cole, and those, such as Katie Price, who didn’t even pretend to write their own books. Alan Hollinghurst won the Man Booker Prize for an explicitly gay novel; Ian McEwan rose above his rivals as the country’s pre-eminent literary novelist; and a black man became president of the United States – and wrote two bestsellers. (read more)
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