Victoria HislopThessaloniki, 1917. As Dimitri Komninos is born, a devastating fire sweeps through the thriving Greek city where Christians, Jews and Muslims live side by side. Five years later, Katerina Sarafoglou's home in Asia Minor is destroyed by the Turkish army. Losing her mother in the chaos, she flees across the sea to an unknown destination in Greece. Soon her life will become entwined with Dimitri's, and with the story of the city itself, as war, fear and persecution begin to divide its people. Thessaloniki, 2007. A young Anglo-Greek hears his grandparents' life story for the first time and realises he has a decision to make. For many decades, they have looked after the memories and treasures of the people who were forced to leave. Should he become their next custodian and make this city his home?
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Author Q & A
Reading Group Questions
Thessaloniki - Reading the Story of the streets... By Victoria Hislop
Judy: If you think Greece is in deep trouble today, try reading this surging story from the author of The Island, Victoria Hislop’s smash-hit debut novel of a few years ago.
After a Spanish sojourn in her follow-up, The Return, Hislop is back in the Greece she clearly so adores. She has a home there and her local knowledge shines through The Thread’s pages – almost 400 of them, so you get value for your Drachma. Or Euro. Or maybe Drachma after all – who knows what’s going to happen?
And that’s the question that crops up almost from the first page to the last: instability and chaos rule. The Thread is set against Greece’s tumultuous, often bloody, 20th-Century history. The saga begins in the country’s second city, Thessaloniki, a fabulous cultural melting pot with its roots stretching all the way back to Alexander the Great.
It is 1917, and Thessaloniki is the very model of a multi-cultural, integrated society. Christians, Muslims and Jews rub happily along together in a spirit of benign mutual tolerance. Greeks and Turks mingle contentedly: all is sweetness, harmony and light.
Then a terrible fire razes most of the city to the ground and suddenly everything changes. Konstantinos Komninos, a wealthy cloth merchant, sees his business and luxurious seafront mansion go up in smoke on the very day his beautiful wife, Olga, gives birth to their first child, Dimitri. Olga is a trophy wife and it quickly emerges that Dimitri is destined to be a trophy son. But mother and baby are forced to lodge in Thessaloniki’s teeming old quarter, where Jews, Christians and Muslims live cheek-by-jowl. Konstantinos – a right-wing, racist bigot – is disgusted when he realises Olga relishes her new environment. But it won’t survive - war and prejudice are coming to destroy it.
Richard: Although Hislop’s characters are the fruits of her imagination, the terrible events they live through are real enough. The colossal fire that destroyed Greece’s second city is a historical fact, as is the vicious war that shortly followed when Greece and Turkey came to blows in Asia Minor. Hislop mercilessly describes the terrible atrocities committed by both sides as she introduces us to Katerina, a little girl who, with her mother, flees the advancing Turkish army - men bent on murder, rape, and the decapitation of any civilian they can lay hands on.
Katerina is separated from her mother in the chaotic flight from the marauding Turks, and is rescued by another young mother, Euginia, who has twin daughters of her own. They manage to board a boat across the Aegean and after suffering terrible privations in refugee camps, eventually wash up in Thessaloniki, half-starved, half-dead, but full of stubborn hope and optimism.
All of this is told in flashback: the book opens in Thessaloniki in 2007, where an elderly Greek couple are visited by their grandson, Mitsos, a student over from London for the summer.
They decide the time is right to reveal to him the story of their days: an inspiring romance set against the backdrop of violent change and calamitous events.
Hislop’s accounts of everyday life in Greece are a delight, whether she is writing about the preparation of ethnic food, or snatch of conversation overheard in a bar, or Greece’s stunning scenery. Thessaloniki is a hundred kilometres from Mount Olympus but the mystical mountain is clearly visible on clear days: Hislop’s lyrical description of the breathtaking vista leaps off the page.
A great Greek stew of a book - aromatic, colourful and richly flavoured. Enjoy.
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