Living in the U.S., I missed all the hoopla. The Island came out here in 2007 to little fanfare, but its broad appeal is understandable. In many respects, it hits the right notes: a multigenerational saga focusing on women's relationships, its near-400 pages overflow with incident and drama. Along with the modern-day heroine, readers uncover the painful family history that her mother has kept hidden for decades, an engrossing story gradually revealed. Such are the ingredients for a typical beach read, but it's made notable by its skillful evocation of a previously little-known setting, Spinalonga, an island off the coast of Crete that served as a leper colony for most of the 20th century.
Victoria Hislop writes with warmth and sensitivity about Spinalonga's residents and the self-contained community they build together. Although few expect to leave - a cure for leprosy seems far distant - the island, with its vibrant flowers and bustling storefronts, is far from the prison most of them envisioned. The coming of a movie theatre and the founding of a newspaper means their minds are kept occupied and entertained. Georgiou, the boatman who ferries supplies out to the island, never forgets his beloved wife, though many of Plaka's other citizens feel ashamed of their connections with Spinalonga. The island becomes a place of acceptance for people rejected by their home, and Eleni's determination to give its children a proper education is one of many moving triumphs.
After I settled in with it, the flaws became less noticeable, and I finished it in two days, which says a lot. Other readers have objected to the plethora of details on daily life, but I felt they enlivened the plot rather than dragging it down. Not the tragic, depressing book one might expect with such a somber topic, this is a thoughtful, relaxing, even uplifting read for a lazy weekend. If you're planning a trip to Greece, I'd definitely recommend it.
The Island appeared from Headline Review (UK) in 2005 and from Harper (US) in 2007.