Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Thread by Victoria Hislop

The Thread by Victoria Hislop

Set in Thessalonica in the early part of the 20th Century, this novel traces the history of a family and its neighbours through turbulent times in Greece: fire, two world wars, civil war, a coup d’etat and an earthquake.  Here’s the blurb -
Thessaloniki, 1917. As Dimitri Komninos is born, a devastating fire sweeps through the thriving Greek city where Christians, Jews and Muslims live side by side. Five years later, Katerina Sarafoglou's home in Asia Minor is destroyed by the Turkish army. Losing her mother in the chaos, she flees across the sea to an unknown destination in Greece. Soon her life will become entwined with Dimitri's, and with the story of the city itself, as war, fear and persecution begin to divide its people.
As before, Victoria Hislop has given a modern character chapters at the beginning and end of a historical novel - here a young Anglo-Greek learns about his grandparents’ early life.  This perhaps unnecessary literary-sandwich device reveals the fact that Dimitri and Katerina do marry eventually, but that doesn’t detract too much from what is an interesting story. 
Again the research is excellent. Given the historical setting, the plot is inevitably complex, and this time Victoria has chosen to tell the story mainly through the eyes of Katerina, who becomes a talented seamstress.  The young Katerina is a realistic, sympathetic character, and this made a difference to my enjoyment of the novel - I hadn’t been entirely convinced by the characters in The Return and The Island.
Having lived in Greece for four years and read Olivia Manning, Captain Corelli etc, I knew some of Greece’s recent history but I didn’t remember about the harrowing Greek-Turkish exchange of population that took place in 1923 and the preceding years, and I also found the steps that were taken to hide and preserve Jewish sacraments before WW2 touching and interesting.
I did have one problem. After some 30 years, I’ve forgotten most of the kitchen Greek I spoke, but nonetheless while reading The Thread I kept being distracted by the unnatural way the characters used each other’s names in dialogue - nominative instead of vocative(!) etc - but most readers won’t notice so I’m being pedantic. 
Having found The Return somewhat of an effort to read, I wasn’t sure I was going to bother with VH’s next book, but this, while still a serious novel, has a lighter touch and I much enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone interested in Greece and modern European history in general. VH fans will love it, I'm sure.


GeraniumCat said...

I've got this and The House of the Wind on the TBR pile - I must start reading them! Happy to say I'm not going to spot any infelicities in the Greek, and I'm relieved that you mention a "lighter touch" because I'm feeling a bit frazzled for managing anything too heavy.

Debs Carr said...

This sounds interesting. I've had The Return on my tar pile for so long and haven't managed to read it.

LindyLouMac in Italy said...

Hi Susie, back from my travels and trying to catch up with all my favourite bloggers. This is the second review I have read for The Thread today, thanks to your review and the last one I read I will be adding this to my wishlist. Also adding The House of the Wind for obvious reasons.