The Thread by Victoria Hislop
Published: 2012 by Harper
Source: Received ARC from publisher for review
The Thread is the story of Dimitri and Katerina and their lives in the city of Thessaloniki, Greece. Born in different cities and in fact different worlds, their lives connect as children by the chance of a fire that destroyed much of the city and the conflict between Turkey and Greece that erupted after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
Dimitri is the much anticipated son of textile magnate Konstantin Komninos and his wife Olga. The fire in Thessaloniki destroys the warehouse and offices of Konstantin’s business as well as the family home, but he makes the business his priority for rebuilding; until their new home can be complete, Olga, young Dimitri, and their housekeeper Pavlina move to Olga’s childhood home on Irina Street, which she still owns, while Konstantin stays at a hotel near his business (it is beneath him to stay in such a “common” area of the city).
As Olga and Dimitri settle in and enjoy the comfort of their friendly and diverse new neighborhood — an area where Christians, Jews, and Muslims lived together in relative harmony — Katerina, her mother and baby sister are fleeing Turkey for Greece. In the chaos of refugees clamoring to get on the boats that will take them away from the violence, Katerina is separated from her family; but once she is on a ship she is taken under the wing of Eugenia and her twin daughters. Katerina hopes to go to Athens and reunite with her mother, but the ship she is on takes her and Eugenia to Thessaloniki. After some time in a camp, an amazing stroke of luck provides them with a house on Irina Street, one that has been abandoned by a Muslim family making the reverse flight back to Turkey. And there, as young children, the stories of Dimitri and Katerina begin.
The novel actually begins with Dimitri and Katerina, now in their 90s, sitting in a cafe in Thessaloniki when they notice their grandson, a Londoner studying in Greece, walking down the street (so it’s not a spoiler to say that they end up together). As they return to their apartment with him, and he asks again why they won’t move to be with their children in England or the U.S., they decide to tell him their story and the reasons why they choose to stay in the city. And the rest of the book describes that story, both of Dimitri and Katerina together and apart; and of the history of Greece – from 1917 until the present. As their story unfolds, one sees “the thread” that connects them through the upheavals of personal and public histories as well as “the thread” that brought them together in the first place.
I really enjoyed this novel, not only for Dimitri and Katerina’s story, but also because I felt like I was in Greece as I was reading it. It’s a little quirk of mine that when I read a book with an foreign (to me) setting and the author uses terms of the local language in the narrative I try to pronounce them out loud, with what I think to be the appropriate accent and this book was no different. One of my best friends growing up was of Greek heritage and as I read The Thread, and as I was reading the dialogue I kept hearing the voice of her yiayia (grandmother) in my head. I also found it fascinating to learn about more about modern Greek history; I never knew how diverse the country’s population actually was at one time, nor did I know that there was a Jewish population in Greece that was almost completely eliminated thanks to the Holocaust.
I seem to have had a problem with the endings of books lately. The ending of this novel felt like it was rushed, and it came with a question that came out of nowhere for me. That said, I really enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone who enjoys learning a bit of history with their star-crossed love story.
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