Spinalonga … This island near Crete remains largely mysterious despite numerous excursions and stories about its past; and, for example, not all tourists, looking at the outlines of Spinalonga from Agios Nikolaos will be ready to go to the place that was a leper colony until 1957, the place where patients with then incurable leprosy were taken. Therefore, The Island book of the English writer Victoria Hislop can become a discovery, a window to another world, the one of Spinalonga, the island of pain and grief, yes, but also of courage, hope and … love.
The plot of the novel is based on the history of the Petrakis family. Alexis, an Englishwoman with Greek roots, has everything in her life: she has a fiancé, loving parents, a prestigious job. But something does not give her rest: she wants to learn about her mother’s past in order to understand herself; and Alexis goes to Crete, to the village of Plaka, where one mother’s friend lives. The young Englishwoman has to make many discoveries, to understand and accept a lot, as well as the readers who follow Alexis through the streets of Plaka and Spinalonga, frightened and delighted, crying and rejoicing together with the heroes of the book. The author makes no long descriptions of landscapes or feelings. The text (at least translated into Russian) is rather “factual”, notwithstanding the novel genre. But there is such a sea of emotions behind the flow of events that the reader can only plunge into them. “There was a lot of grief and pain in this book. But I still want to believe that this novel is a story of love, not betrayal, healing, not illness, faith and not doom,” write some readers in their reviews.
When you come to the last page, it seems that the novel is not only about Spinalonga and leprosy but about an illness or misfortune that pulls a person out of his usual life and about the love and devotion of loving people – the family, and the friends. “In an instant, everything in life, that I built brick by brick with love and care, collapses …” – says one of the heroines. Who will be supportive at this moment, and who will have enough strength and faith to continue living with it? A sense of endless respect for those, who did it and stayed close, have Alexis, and … readers. Now, looking at Spinalonga from the coast of Crete, Hislop fans have this very feeling …
A serial was produced based on the book; and if you want to know how attractive Greek women can be, how they choose freshly caught fish in Plaka in the morning, and how they decorate their houses, how they collect precious rain water, you should watch the TV version of The Islands. It is no coincidence that Victoria Hislop was able to entrust the film adaptation only to a Greek film company. All the actors are Greek, and all the filming locations are real. The film was produced in Plaka and Spinalonga. Its every scene breathes with authenticity, and the play of the actors does not seem to be a play but their life in a recreated reality. A heavy knot of hair on Eleni’s proud neck, her touching black slippers with a strap, hot bread from the oven, embroideries on the house walls … For Russian viewers, it is unlikely to see the Greeks life of the recent past in such detail where else. The filmmakers show the details of the disease common to Spinalonga with the utmost care, so don’t expect a horror movie. We dare to say that the series is a living illustration of the book … sometimes emotionally difficult one but filled to the limit with real details. You don’t have to watch all 26 episodes: a few are enough to see authentic Greece, because from the book you already know the ending of the story.
“Spinalonga. Alexis was thinking upon this word, twirling it on her tongue like an olive pit … ” Don’t you want to keep Alexis company?
By Svetlana Zaitseva