By Victoria Hislop.
Islands come in all shapes and sizes. For Alexis Fielding, a tiny island just off the coast of Crete turned out to have a huge significance for her.
At the age of 25 Alexis was to visit Crete on holiday, with her boyfriend Ed. Part of the reason for the holiday was for her to try and decide if she wanted to continue that relationship. Ultimately, that decision became an insignificant aspect of the visit that was to reveal so much of her mother’s past.
Alexis’ mother, Sofia, had been born and brought up on Crete, until she left the island to begin university. That Sofia’s origins were from Crete was all that Alexis knew about her mother’s past.
The night before Alexis was to leave for her holiday on Crete, she visited her parents Sofia and Marcus. When she left them she carried with her her a letter to Sofia’s oldest friend on Crete, Fotini, who had grown up with Sofia’s mother and her sister and Sofia’s grandmother, Alexis’ great grandmother.
Arriving in the smallf Cretan village of Plaka, with her mother’s letter to Fotini safely with her, even before visiting Fotini, she hired a boatman to take her the few hundred yards offshore to the former, now deserted leper colony on the tiny island of Spinalonga.
Without knowing why, Alexis had seemed drawn there and was more affected by it than most of the occasional visitors and tourists who after a short time had no desire to linger on the island. Later, from Fotini, Alexis was to discover what a big part of her family’s history was intimately connected with the island of Spinalonga.
Most of the books that come my way from the book club are ok, take it or leave it kind of books. Once in a while a real gem surfaces. Victoria Hislop’s The Island is from the second category, one of the gems.
Some of the descriptions of life inside the leper colony might surprise you as it did me. It dispelled my pre-conceived notions and unless you already know something about lepers, might dispel yours too.
Hislop ‘s writing makes you care about the characters she gives portraits of. On a number of occasions whilst reading I found myself thinking she doesn’t deserve that, or he got what was coming to him. I even said it out loud once without realising, until I was asked what I had just said.