The story of Thessaloniki in ‘The Thread’ by Victoria Hislop
I’ve recently got into reading Victoria Hislop novels, after a recommendation from my grandmother who knew that I love stories, books and films set in foreign countries, and particularly in countries that I know and love. After reading Victoria Hislop’s The Return, set in Granada, which I reviewed here a couple of months ago, I was left feeling desperate to get out to Spain (7 months to go until I move to Madrid) and it instantly made me want to read her other novels. I set about reading The Thread, which is set in Greece, a country I barely know at all, having only been there once, in summer 2012. But even that was a sailing trip around the Saronic Islands and we didn’t have that much of a chance to meet the locals and learn about the history and culture as we were mostly bobbing around offshore.
So this novel is set in the coastal city of Thessaloniki in the north of Greece, beginning in 1917 with the great fire that razed almost the entire city to the ground and spanning to the present day. Much like Hislop did in her novel The Return, the plot follows the fate of various generations of a family, narrated by an eyewitness to a descendent, in this case one of the protagonist’s grandchildren who has grown up in England and knows very little about his family’s past.
This time however Victoria Hislop doesn’t overemphasise the grandson’s story as she did with Sonia’s in The Return, a habit which became a little tedious at times and overshadowed the story the readers were actually interested in. This is another novel that pulls at the heart strings – we witness the destruction of a multicultural community that had coexisted in perfect harmony, as Muslims are exiled to Turkey and Jews are sent to concentration camps in Poland once the Second World War sets in. The sheer amount of tragedy in this book makes it no light-read and is just as educational as The Return which highlights living conditions during the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship. I found it particularly striking, as my knowledge of Greece and its heritage beyond the era of the Greek Gods (which we learnt about in primary school) is embarrassingly limited.
One of the things I loved most about Hislop’s previous book was the frequent references to Spanish foods and Spanish phrases. There was no lack of these in The Thread, but they didn’t have the same effect on me as I can’t speak Greek and to be honest know very little about Greek food! I did however go to a lovely Greek restaurant near Covent Garden a month or so ago, called The Real Greek, and there are 5 others around London. Our waiter happened to come from Thessaloniki and recommended I read another book called Salonica: City of Ghosts by Mark Mazower which tells the story of 500 years of Thessaloniki’s history from 1430-1950, highlighting the number of conquests and subsequently cultural and religious phases the city has been through to produce such a rich cultural mix.
I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it, and you can buy it here on Amazon.
Next up on the “to-read list” is the third book in Victoria Hislop’s repertoire: The Island, again set in Greece.