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The Island

The Island

4.4 71
by Victoria Hislop

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The Petrakis family lives in the small Greek seaside village of Plaka. Just off the coast is the tiny island of Spinalonga, where the nation's leper colony once was located—a place that has haunted four generations of Petrakis women. There's Eleni, ripped from her husband and two young daughters and sent to Spinalonga in 1939, and her daughters Maria, finding


The Petrakis family lives in the small Greek seaside village of Plaka. Just off the coast is the tiny island of Spinalonga, where the nation's leper colony once was located—a place that has haunted four generations of Petrakis women. There's Eleni, ripped from her husband and two young daughters and sent to Spinalonga in 1939, and her daughters Maria, finding joy in the everyday as she dutifully cares for her father, and Anna, a wild child hungry for passion and a life anywhere but Plaka. And finally there's Alexis, Eleni's great-granddaughter, visiting modern-day Greece to unlock her family's past.

A richly enchanting novel of lives and loves unfolding against the backdrop of the Mediterranean during World War II, The Island is an enthralling story of dreams and desires, of secrets desperately hidden, and of leprosy's touch on an unforgettable family.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Travel writer Hislop's unwieldy debut novel opens with 25-year-old Alexis leaving Britain for Crete, her mother Sofia's homeland, hoping to ferret out the secrets of Sofia's past and thereby get a handle on her own turbulent life. Sofia's friend Fortini tells Alexis of her grandmother Anna, and great-aunt Maria. Their mother (Alexis's great-grandmother) contracted leprosy in 1939 and went off to a leper colony on the nearby island of Spinalonga, leaving them with their father. Anna snags a wealthy husband, Andreas, but smolders for his renegade cousin, Manoli. When philanderer Manoli chooses Maria, Anna is furious. Conveniently, Maria also contracts leprosy and is exiled, allowing Anna to conduct an affair with Manoli. Meanwhile, Maria feels an attraction to her doctor, who may have similar feelings. Though the plot is satisfyingly twisty, the characters play one note apiece (Anna is prone to dramatic outrages, Maria is humble and kind, and their love interests are jealous and aggressive). Hislop's portrayal of leprosy-those afflicted and the evolving treatment-during the 1940s and 1950s is convincing, but readers may find the narrative's preoccupation with chronicling the minutiae of daily life tedious. (July)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

It would be hard to imagine a more cheerless setting for a novel than a leper colony on a remote Greek island, but the community of Spinalonga provides a remarkable backdrop for this affecting, multigenerational saga. At the outset of World War II, when she exhibits the first signs of leprosy, Eleni Petrakis is exiled to Spinalonga, an island off the coast of Crete. Leaving behind her husband and young daughters, Eleni believes her life is over. But the sun-soaked island, with its brightly painted houses and lively, well-run community, turns out to be a comfortable and humane refuge. Life is less kind to the family she had to forsake. While Maria remains a caring daughter to her single parent, sister Anna never recovers from the abandonment and grows into a cold and deceitful woman. In a cruel twist of fate, it is Maria who also falls prey to the disease on the eve of her wedding and who is sentenced to spend her own days on Spinalonga. Bookended by the present-day journey into her past by Anna's grown daughter, this debut novel is a deeply pleasurable read.
—Barbara Love

Kirkus Reviews
A young Englishwoman discovers her family's secret links to a Cretan leper colony, in an unusually humane saga. A bestseller in the U.K., British author Hislop's debut pays affecting tribute to the victims of leprosy and those who helped them. Alexis's mother Sofia has never discussed her family background, but when Alexis plans a trip to Crete with her decreasingly appealing boyfriend Ed, Sofia gives her an introduction to old family friend, Fortini, in the village of Plaka, across from Spinalonga Island, for years a leper colony, but now deserted. Fortini, with Sofia's permission, begins to narrate the Petrakis family story, starting with Alexis's grandmother Eleni in 1939, a saintly, married schoolteacher who developed leprosy, moved to Spinalonga and died there, leaving behind her husband and two daughters, Anna and Maria. Willful Anna marries rich Andreas but flirts with his sexier cousin Manoli, who falls in love with good-natured Maria. Their wedding plans are shattered when Maria realizes she too is infected with leprosy and must go to the island. Under the treatment of kind Dr. Kyritsis, Maria is given drugs, and eventually she and the other sufferers are healed and the colony is closed. Anna, meanwhile, has had an affair with Manoli and given birth to Sofia. On the night of Maria's return to Plaka, Andreas discovers the affair and shoots Anna. Eventually, Maria marries Kyritsis and they bring up Sofia, not revealing until very late her true parentage. Sofia takes the news badly, moves away and lives a life of shame and guilt for the pain she caused. Now she and Alexis are reunited in Plaka and Ed is given his marching orders. Mediocre fiction is redeemed by considerable empathyin this serious but patchy summer read.

Product Details

Thorpe, F. A. Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Large Print Edition
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Island

By Victoria Hislop

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Victoria Hislop
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061340321

Chapter One

Plaka, 2001

Unfurled from its mooring, the rope flew through the air and sprayed the woman's bare arms with droplets of seawater. They soon dried, and as the sun beat down on her from a cloudless sky she noticed that her skin sparkled with intricate patterns of salty crystals, like a tattoo in diamonds. Alexis was the only passenger in the small, battered boat, and as it chugged away from the quay in the direction of the lonely, unpeopled island ahead of them she shuddered, as she thought of all the men and women who had travelled there before her.

Spinalonga. She played with the word, rolling it around her tongue like an olive stone. The island lay directly ahead, and as the boat approached the great Venetian fortification which fronted the sea, she felt both the pull of its past and an overpowering sense of what it still meant in the present. This, she speculated, might be a place where history was still warm, not stone cold, where the inhabitants were real not mythical. How different that would make it from the ancient palaces and sites she had spent the past few weeks, months—even years—visiting.

Alexis could have spent another day clambering over the ruins of Knossos, conjuring up in her mind from thosechunky fragments how life had been lived there over four thousand years before. Of late, however, she had begun to feel that this was a past so remote as to be almost beyond the reach of her imagination, and certainly beyond her caring. Though she had a degree in archaeology and a job in a museum, she felt her interest in the subject waning by the day. Her father was an academic with a passion for his subject, and in a childlike way she had simply grown up to believe she would follow in his dusty footsteps. To someone like Marcus Fielding there was no ancient civilisation too far in the past to arouse his interest, but for Alexis, now twenty-five, the bullock she had passed on the road earlier that day had considerably more reality and relevance to her life than the Minotaur at the centre of the legendary Cretan labyrinth ever could.

The direction her career was taking was not, currently, the burning issue in her life. More pressing was her dilemma over Ed. All the while they soaked up the steady warmth of the late summer rays on their Greek island holiday, a line was slowly being drawn under the era of a once promising love affair. Theirs was a relationship that had blossomed in the rarefied microcosm of a university, but in the outside world it had withered and, three years on, was like a sickly cutting that had failed to survive being transplanted from greenhouse to border.

Ed was handsome. This was a matter of fact rather than opinion. But it was his good looks that sometimes annoyed her as much as anything and she was certain that they added to his air of arrogance and his sometimes enviable self-belief. They had gone together, in an 'opposites attract' sort of way, Alexis with her pale skin and dark hair and eyes and Ed with his blond, blue-eyed, almost Aryan looks. Sometimes, however, she felt her own wilder nature being bleached out by Ed's need for discipline and order and she knew this was not what she wanted; even the small measure of spontaneity she craved seemed anathema to him.

Many of his other good qualities, most of them regarded as assets by the world at large, had begun to madden her. An unshakeable confidence for a start. It was the inevitable result of his rock-solid certainty about what lay ahead and had always lain ahead from the moment of his birth. Ed was promised a lifetime job in a law firm and the years would unfold for him in a preordained pattern of career progression and homes in predictable locations. Alexis's only certainty was their growing incompatibility. As the holiday progressed, she had spent more and more time mulling over the future and did not picture Ed in it at all. Even domestically they did not match. The toothpaste was being squeezed from the wrong end. But it was she who was the culprit, not Ed. His reaction to her sloppiness was symptomatic of his approach to life in general, and she found his demands for things to be shipshape unpleasantly controlling. She tried to appreciate his need for tidiness but resented the unspoken criticism of the slightly chaotic way in which she lived her life, often recalling that it was in her father's dark, messy study that she felt at home, and that her parents' bedroom, her mother's choice of pale walls and tidy surfaces, made her shiver.

Everything had always gone Ed's way. He was one of life's golden boys: effortlessly top of the class and unchallenged victor ludorum year after year. The perfect head boy. It would hurt to see his bubble burst. He had been brought up to believe that the world was his oyster, but Alexis had begun to see that she could not be enclosed within it. Could she really give up her independence to go and live with him, however obvious it might seem that she should? A slightly tatty rented flat in Crouch End versus a smart apartment in Kensington—was she insane to reject the latter? In spite of Ed's expectations that she would be moving in with him in the autumn, these were questions she had to ask herself: What was the point of living with him if their intention wasn't to marry? And was he the man she would want as father of her children, in any case? Such uncertainties had circled in her mind for weeks, even months now, and sooner or later she would have to be bold enough to do something about them. Ed did so much of the talking, the organising and the managing on this holiday he seemed scarcely to notice that her silences were getting longer by the day.


Excerpted from The Island by Victoria Hislop Copyright © 2007 by Victoria Hislop. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Victoria Hislop writes travel features for The Sunday Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday, along with celebrity profiles for Woman & Home. She lives in Kent, England, with her husband and their two children.

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Island 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 71 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What an unexpected find this book was!!... I just got back from visiting Crete, Greece and all the places that the author mentioned in her book. It put me back on the island with such vivid detail and I only wished I could have read this book before I went so I could have enjoyed seeing 'The Leper's Island' and all the villages through more enlightened eyes. I am an avid reader and just think this author is wonderful.. Keep going.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This wonderful book is at once chick lit,mystery,& travelogue. Set in both todays world,& the Greece of 60 years ago, it is a moving & passionate novel about a womans search for the truth of her mothers past. Don't be put off by the fact it is set on Spiralonga a small Island off Crete, which was a leper colony until the 50's, & which is integral to the story. This is my book of the year so far. An absolute pleasure to read
SheilaDeeth More than 1 year ago
Beautifully imagined, well-researched and evocatively told, Victoria Hislop's The Island recreates a leper colony of the 1930s and follows its inmates and neighbors on the Island of Crete through the Second World War to the present day. The theme of searching for identity is well-served as the author follows characters whose identities have been stolen by disease-some losing their physical self-image, others half-destroyed mentally by loss of family and friends. The agony of ostracism, the fear of ever-present death and the struggle to create a life where life is already failing are made chillingly real. The kindness and cruelty of strangers threads the tale. And the modern-day story of a young woman searching for her own identity, seeking her past and her future, makes a pleasing wrapper. The writing changes point of view with unsettling fluidity; the reader's certainty of characters' innermost thoughts creating an intriguing contrast with the modern-day protagonist's uncertainties about her mother and her lover. Side-stories, the flirtatious sister, the lost little boy, even soldiers in the war, all fold together creating a fine sense of people and place, a picture of quiet society still hiding in the warmth of Cretan sunshine and the dust of forgotten lanes. Secrets hurt, the past can't be changed, but forgiveness and the choice to move forwards imbue the tale with a hopeful tone. Meanwhile the mystery of leprosy becomes something real that I'm glad to know more about. At 473 pages this is a long novel to be savored slowly, but it's a fascinating tale leaving a lingering taste of sunshine and mystery. Disclosure: I borrowed this book from a friend of my mother's in England.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is beautifully written and so compelling from start to finish. Victoria Hislop pulls at the heartstrings and I couldn't keep myself from crying at the sad parts and rooting for the characters in their triumphs. I would reccomend this to anyone.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What an intense, beautiful and touching story. Out of 97 books on my Nook this was by far the best. So sad how people viewed leprosy. My heart went out to so many of the characters. The author did an amazing job!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was more about a families struggle to fight a battle with a disease the impacted many in the 1900's. Leprosy is not a disease many of us think existed Europe. This tiny island off of Crete was a place those infected by this disease, that had no cure, were imprisoned on during the 1900's was more than many expected. For those on the island it became a refuse, and for those who had loved ones there, it became a place of no return. The Island begins slowly and a bit fragmented but allows the reader to see leprosy from a different view point. As one family member finds herself infected, she travels to the place where no one returns, only to find the unexpected. Her family lives on without her but does not forget her. As others from her small village join her, their lives change. While the story of those infected with leprosy offers a much different story from what many knew, they still depended on others to survive. But those on the island did more than survive, they flourished. The book is a bit rough with some unbelievable character sketches but overall the main characters hold their own. The conclusion is a bit odd and misplaced with the overall story line, but the I would still recommend this book for book clubs. It offers insight to the impact and struggle of those with leprosy and the family members left behind of this tragic disease.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have just finished reading this book and I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed the adventure. I have read much about Leper colonies in Hawaii but had not thought about it in other parts of the world. Between that and the wonderful story of Sophia and her family history and her wonderful friends on Crete it was a terrific read. The characters were so inviting and alive, even those who were not necessarily sympathetic.There was so much warmth in this story. I could not put it down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A fabulous story that kept me up all night turning the pages! A combo of historical fiction, with suspense, love, mystery all thrown in!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the first Victoria Hislop book I have read but it certainly won't be the last. I found this book to be incredibly interesting and emotionally moving. I hated that it had to end but I so wanted to find out what happened. I have already purchased another book by this author and can't wait to get started. Stephanie Clanahan
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A rich, beautiful story with wonderful characters. The author gives the reader an amazing look into what life was like in a leper colony as well as how the disease ripped families apart. I will read this book again and again.
PierresFamily More than 1 year ago
This book will stay with me a long time, and is going to spoil me for other books! Well-developed characters. I became so invested with them, that I felt literal pain when one of them was crying. It was interesting to learn about the history not only of Crete, but also about the victims of leprosy, who were banished to "the island." But all is not as it seems there. That is all I will say, not wishing to give a spoiler for one of the best books I have ever read. Publisher, please note: For future books by this author, a map noting locales would have been helpful! Very moving multi-generational saga.
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Great book the story was terrific.
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Well written, fully fleshed characters, a sense of being there and experiencing the lives and surroundings of people you come to care about. I will read this book again.
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I would call this a 'must read'...a touching and compelling book, evoking surprising tenderness and empathy for lepers and what they must go through.
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