The Island: A Mediterraean saga of love and loss

Discovering a new author whose words speak to your sensibilities is always exciting. And you wonder what you did all these years without reading any of this author’s works. For me such an author is Victoria Hislop- and I cannot imagine myself in a life before reading The Island anymore. It’s like there is an entire world out there you know nothing about. I had such strong sentiments for a book when I first read Jane Austen, JK Rowling and Haruki Murakami.


This is the island that the title refers to, separated by a narrow waterway from the mainland of Plaka, Crete where those afflicted by leprosy built a habitation right from the scratch. In crude words, lepers were banished there to die. They built houses, church, school, bakeries, printing press, hospitals, and graveyards; they created their own legal and political system; they grew their own food and herbs but also had to depend on the weekly supplies from the mainland which were delivered by a single willing volunteer, Georgios, Alexis’ great grandfather. 

The residents knew that most of them would have to die there, may be a few years later, so the bond they shared with one another amidst disease and distress were a very unique one. They shared their pain and grief together as most of their family didn’t visit them ever again. In this context, Eleni was very privileged and fortunate, as her husband, Georgios didn’t miss any chance to come and see her while making deliveries or providing transport to the doctors. And Eleni would send letters to her daughters Maria and Anna through him. Such was their ill-fated life.

Turbulent love lives

Be it the faithful love of Georgios in health and in disease or Anna’s passionate affairs with Manoli, outside of her marriage to Andreas, or Maria’s fleeting brush with uncertain love before she contracts the disease, each and every character has his share of painful love. 

There’s shame, guilt, remorse and madness. The doomed love stories and a few lucky ones that survive the test of time are meticulously sketched out. When Anna discovers the first symptoms of the dreaded disease- the patches of numb dry skin in Maria’s feet- she takes an unusual pleasure in it, and is hell bent on breaking Maria’s engagement with Manoli. Such unkind, almost malicious sibling rivalry among the sisters twists their course of lives beyond repair. 

But when later, Maria finds a reliable partner in Dr. Kyritsis in the worst of times, in the most unfavorable of situations; we know that the age gap of twenty years won’t affect their loyal love for each other.

Unforgettable Characters

Anna is ambitious, almost selfish, and passionate. Prim and proper in her ways, she always wanted to get away from the monotonous village life, while Maria was loyal and preferred to live her entire life amidst known people, she didn’t really want adventure. Predictability of life was good enough for her. 


When years later Maria develops the symptoms for leprosy and lands on Spinalonga, she is familiar with her surroundings and the people she meets there. She knew them all through Eleni’s letters. Be it the doctors at the hospitals, the Father at the church or Dimitri, Eleni's foster son, Maria knew them all.


Manoli lived free of responsibilities, traveled far and wide and fell in and out of love almost every year. 


Dr. Kyritsis was hell bent on finding a cure. “One day you’re going to leave this island.” he finally said this to Maria holding her hands in his own, it was his confession of love.


And Fortini, who narrates most of the story is the best friend people can wish for, the most loyal and trustworthy individual. She would come to visit Maria in the island even when she was pregnant. 


And there was Sophia, Anna’s daughter raised by Maria and Alexis’ mother, who could never really accept her family history. Lepers, adulterers and murderers were her own flesh and blood. Through Alexis’ perspective Sophia got the much deserved closure to this tumultuous past.

Poetic Narration

The book doesn’t have many dialogues, and is narrated from a third person perspective, which is understandable. A story that spans four generations needs a third person narrative. But the crux of the tale is the first two generations- Eleni and Georgios, their daughters Maria and Anna and their stories. I liked the narration because I found it poetic. The sentences had a few adjectives too many, but I enjoyed that too. This is the kind of narrative that I truly adore- that takes the story forward in every sentence, but doesn’t compromise on the emotions or the melancholy, and still manages to keep intact an aesthetic appeal. The descriptions are eloquent without being overdone.

This novel is deep in its subject, passionate in its characters portrayal and storyline, the narrative is rich and it shows the incredible amount of research that must have gone into the book. The tale is unforgettable; the family saga is very emotional and gripping. It is not your usual holiday read, I must say so. You must invest yourself in it, and what an incredibly beautiful story it is through all the tragedies and pain. I urge you to read it.

The book has been adapted to a 26 episodes series in Greece, which I hope I can watch online. I look forward to read other works by the author.


About The Author

Victoria Hislop read English at Oxford, and worked in publishing, PR and as a journalist before becoming a novelist. She is married with two children.

Her first novel, The Island, held the number one slot in the Sunday Times paperback charts for eight consecutive weeks and has sold over two million copies worldwide. Victoria was the Newcomer of the Year at the Galaxy British Book Awards 2007 and won the Richard & Judy Summer Read competition.

Her second novel, The Return, was also a Sunday Times number one bestseller, and her books have been translated into more than twenty languages. A short story collection, One Cretan Evening, was published in September and both a third novel, The Thread is published in English in October and in Greek in November 2011. 


  1. Sounds like an all out emotional saga... interesting . Books such as these with it's own poetic narration have a certain element of beauty in their words.

    1. Yes they do. It's like reading a lyrical prose. I have a weakness for beautiful words and expressions, and this book checks all the right boxes.

  2. I feel like reading it right away. Thanks

    1. 😊 You should. You won't be able to stop reading.

  3. The one aspect that appealed to me most about this book is the poetic flow of words. I would like to read this book to explore such narration style. Adding it to my TBR.

    1. You would surely enjoy it. I must say here that it is not a light read. It's emotionally intense. But you won't regret picking it up.

  4. This sounds interesting! The emotions added with the poetic narration makes it sound like a good book! Going to add it to my TBR.


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Queeristan by Parmesh Sahani

  Queeristan (Amazon Link) Thanks to Audible Free Trial I listened to this amazing non-fiction on LGBTQ inclusion in Indian workplaces. Author Parmesh Sahani identifies as gay Indian, working closely with Godrej higher management and employees for years to create an inclusive workplace, both legally and in spirit. This book is a result of those years of experience, research, collaboration with individuals from difference spectrum of the society and organizations who has successfully transitioned into a queer friendly one.   Indian history is inclusive. From the Khajuraho temple architectures, to Konark to the Rig Veda, there is existing proofs even 2000 years ago of Indian inclusiveness of queer. It’s the draconian British law that criminalised it, which was scraped in 2009, came into effect once again following a sad judgement in 2013 and eventually was scraped off for good in 2018. I am in awe of the lawyers who fought this legal battle- colleagues and partners – Arundhati Katju

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