Katerina Sarafoglou, a young seamstress with exceptional talent, creates beautiful gowns for the rich ladies of Thessaloniki in Greece, the passion for her work shining through as her needle threads its way through the fine silks and wools.
Victoria Hislop’s new novel, The Thread, weaves a story of love, family feuds, resilience and loss against a backdrop of the turbulent history of Greece, and, in particular, the northern city of Thessaloniki, throughout the 20th Century.
After her highly successful first novel, The Island, which was set in Crete and the leper island of Spinalonga, Victoria set her second novel, The Return, in 1930s Spain. In this, her third, widely-anticipated, novel, she returns to Greece and readers are once again treated to a tale which not only ticks the boxes for providing a heart-warming love story, but enlightens and educates with an accurate, fascinating insight into the history of this region.
This is how I like my history; a social interpretation of how political, religious and environmental forces affect people in their day to day lives. In 1917 we learn that Thessaloniki is devastated by a fire which has a huge impact on the future of this multi-cultural city, where Christians, Muslims and Jews were living together in a fairly successful symbiotic way. Add two world wars, civil war, communism versus nationalism and it’s clear that the city is never going to be the same again for its inhabitants.
The book begins in 2007 so we know the outcome of the relationship for the two main characters, Katerina and Dimitri, before we are taken back to the beginning of their lives. Having knowledge of the ending doesn’t, in fact, detract from the enjoyment of the narrative: there are enough questions, surprises and anxious moments to keep the reader entranced from beginning to end.
I suspect comparisons will be made with Louis de Bernieres’ Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and it’s true this book will excite imagination and encourage travel to Thessaloniki to experience the spirit of a city nestling in the arms of the ever-present Mount Olympus. But for me this book has the same emotional appeal as Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns. In that novel I was able to appreciate how political changes and religious extremes impact on normal, diligent families and their neighbours in Afghanistan: in The Thread similar trials are thrust upon a group of hard-working, tolerant, loving individuals in war-torn Greece. Their specific stories may be fictional but their voices are real and resonant.
The Thread, by Victoria Hislop, is published in hardback and ebook on 27 October 2011, by Headline Review