I don't normally choose 'family saga' novels, but there was something very appealing about the premise of this one. Set on Crete, specifically around the little fishing village of Plaka, it tells the story of several generations of Petrakis women, and their ties to the leper colony on Spinalonga, the little island just off the coast. Alexis, British-born and half-Greek, is determined to find out about her mother's family history, despite her unfathomable secrecy. Finally relenting, Sofia sends her daughter to an old friend in Plaka, who finally tells her the story of her family, beginning with her great-grandmother Eleni and her great-grandfather Georgiou and continuing through the years to her mother's lifetime.
I found this to be a very evocative book, filled with the sights, sounds and scents of life in rural Greece. It was also quite educational, giving as it does a comprehensive, if fictionalised, account of life in the leper colony on Spinalonga. It taught me a lot about leprosy, in terms of the disease itself and of the way it was viewed by society at that time. Aspects of the stigma of having a disease and the embarrassment of its physical manifestation continue to ring true for other illnesses and disabilities today, providing an interesting comparison and a pause for reflection. The descriptions of the community on the island were alive with colour and feeling, and I felt myself sinking into the unfamiliar setting and becoming deeply absorbed in the narrative as the family's story unfolded.
I can't believe it's taken me so many years to finally get to this book, but I'm glad I finally plucked it down from the shelf and gave it the attention it deserves. I can see why this book became a bestseller, and I'll be recommending it heartily to anyone looking for a summer read with an wide sweep, a Mediterranean flavour, a thoughtful theme and a whole lot of heart.