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on 6 May 2013
Writing a review I rarely do, but I feel compelled to do so with this book, given its raving reviews (reason why I bought it)and my own utterly negative opinion about it. I rarely read a book with such an increasing irritation. It is -some of the more critical reviewers mentioned this already- an extremely shallow book, without any attempt to give depth to its characters;characters that only have a kind of ghostlike appearance, like the mother of Olga; full of accidental events; running at high speed through the history of Greece merging wikipedia wisdom with the predictable soapy story line, all this trying to be in tune with the political correctness of today. The flight from Smyrna is also described in the excellent book of Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex, but with infinitely more literary qualities. The history of Greece, at least the consequences of the Greek civial war, is nicely described in Olga Zinovieff's book, Euridyce Street, not a masterpiece but nice, informative and entertaining.
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on 24 October 2012
I loved this book. I have read the other books by Victoria Hislop and also enjoyed them. The story gave me a great insight into the lives and hardships of the Greek people during the war which we do not hear about as often as in other countries. Victoria has a good knowledge of Greece, the people and the way of life, her characters are very real and the story well written. I would certainly recommend this book.
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on 28 October 2012
I bought this book on the back of The Island, which I loved.

I like the premise behind the book, but for me it lost its way in the middle section, and could do with being 200 or so less pages long.

I'm still pleased I read it though - the characterisation was strong, and it was good to learn about a small part of recent Greek history that I know very little about.
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on 15 July 2012
A fascinating historical narrative rescues Victoria Hislop's latest novel from its somewhat two-dimensional characters and inconsistent prose style, making it ideal beach reading.

The plot loosely focuses around the developing relationship between Dimitri, a rebellious son of a wealthy merchant, and Katerina, a talented semi-orphaned seamstress, which unfolds across the first half of the twentieth century in the Greek city of Thessaloniki. Their eventual fate is not left in doubt as they are married in the twenty-first century prologue, which means our interest is always chiefly concerned with the history of the city itself, in a manner that might remind readers of Edward Rutherford.

Like (I suspect) many British readers, my knowledge of the Thessalonians is limited to the biblical letters they received. As such, the main pleasure of Hislop's work is fascinating story of the city's three decades of crisis, from the Great Fire of 1917 to the civil war of the late 1940s - all topics which seem to have completely eluded the British curriculum-makers.

This turbulent city is populated by a broad range of characters, and Hislop is at her best when she lets her cast be buffeted by history. It is notable that there are no heroes here - the characters who fight openly confess their own crimes; those who stay at home suffer quietly rather than struggling - but that allows the events themselves to come to the fore. An ignorance of Greek history might even be an advantage, as the endless succession of catastrophes can shock the reader just as it does the fictional Thessalonians.

Hislop is less successful as she strays away from documented events. Dimitri is curiously under-developed, with his key shift from his father's cruel capitalist ideology to a philanthropic brand of communism triggered only by realising the existence of poor people, and never subsequently developed. The villains are even shallower: Dimitri's father a pantomime villain, while a scene where a grotesquely overweight man dies while having sex is as clichéd as it is grotesque.

Nonetheless these cracks are not wide enough to ruin the pleasure of the novel, especially when we follow the enchanting Katerina, who is certainly the strongest character by far as she makes her way using her natural aptitude as a seamstress. To continue the metaphor which the novel engages in, Hislop has created a masterful tapestry, just so long as you don't poke too closely at the stitches.
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on 1 May 2015
I have been suffering from breast cancer and am unable to enjoy many of my usual hobbies, so I have been reading even more than usual. With that in mind, my friend Jill gave me The Thread by Victoria Hislop. She had really enjoyed it and so passed it on. I had never read any books by Hislop, but I had heard of her. She is an English author who was born in London, England in 1959 but was raised in Tonbridge, Kent, and attended Tonbridge Grammar School before she read English at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford University, Oxford, England. It was while at University in Oxford that she met her husband, the comedian and journalist Ian Hislop. He read English Literature at Magdalen College, Oxford. They married in Oxford on 16 April 1988 and now live in Sissinghurst with their two children.

The Thread is set in Thessaloniki, Greece and follows the slow-burning romance between Katerina and Dimitri, the former a poor refugee from Asia Minor, the latter the son of a wealthy textile merchant. While Katerina supports her family as an expert seamstress, Dimitri angers his father by siding with the resistance against the occupying German forces in World War II, as the city, once devastated by fire, is torn apart by the Nazi persecution of its thriving Jewish community.

Their young grandson hears their life story for the first time when the book begins in 2007. He 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. He must decide whether to become their next custodian and make this city his home. So, the reader knows the outcome of the relationship for the two main characters, Katerina and Dimitri, before being taken back to the beginning of their lives. Having knowledge of the ending does not detract from the enjoyment of the narrative because there are enough questions, surprises and anxious moments to keep the reader entranced from beginning to end.

Victoria Hislop’s novel, The Thread, is magical. It is carefully researched and subtly weaves a story of love, family feuds, resilience and loss against a backdrop of the turbulent history of Greece, and, in particular, the northern city of Thessaloniki, throughout the 20th Century. The readers are treated to a tale which not only provides a heart-warming love story, but enlightens and educates them with an accurate, fascinating insight into the history of this region.

This book will excite imagination and encourage travel to Greece and Thessaloniki in particular to experience the spirit of a city nestling in the arms of the ever-present Mount Olympus. However, for me, this book had a similar emotional appeal as A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. In that novel, reviewed at I was able to appreciate how political changes and religious extremes impact on normal, diligent families and their neighbours in Afghanistan: in The Thread similar trials are thrust upon a group of hard-working, tolerant, loving individuals in war-torn Greece. Their specific stories may be fictional but their voices are real and resonant. Victoria Hislop is a gifted writer. The Thread is a delicious book: if you have not yet read it, I highly recommend it. If you have read it, it probably deserves savouring again.
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on 25 June 2014
I read this whilst on another holiday to Greece and having read The Island a few years prior I thought I would give this ago. I got through it quick enough and found it mildly engaging but the end left me "meh".

Having made clothes in the past I loved the idea of the clothesmaking and the materials uses, and even the weaving. I even learned a few things about Greeces recent (ish) political turmoil. But at the end of the day it just didn't inspire me to care what happens.

I tried to think about it and here are my reasons for not liking half as much as The Island:
I found Katrina and Olga too much a victim, "oh poor me stuck in this loveless marriage". Whilst I do not doubt the attitude of the day was women where property of the men. I just though since this is fiction, give them a little more fire in their belly. By one of the final "dinners" I wanted to slap both of them.

Their husbands were too pantomine nasties, stereotypes too silly to care about what happened to them, or cheer if that was meant to be the case. The dashing younger brother was dashing and just had to be different to his older businessman brother.

The other characters around them were either poor but good people or rich and indifferent people. I know this is ficition but that's a bit lazy just have it like that. Black and white, rich and poor...

Speaking of lazy... what was in that letter left by the Muslim family?! If you are not going to tell me the contents don't tell me there was a letter. Oh and no sorry you cannot handstitch a long coat, a jacket and a waistcoat in about 10 hours... That annoyed me because the book just wasn't good enough to let me believe in the story.

Perhaps because of the huge themes the story covered it all got a little too lost, it all was just too cut and dry making things fit the story. The sacking of Asia Minor, the explusion of the Muslims, the deporation of the Jews, the fire, the civil war. It was all just a too much. In the end I almost forgot about the grandson, and the ending was just too rushed and didn't believe in his conviction.

Ulitmatly this is not a great story, compelling enough, but perhaps a storyline (or 5) too far.
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A young man studying for his MA at the local University greets his grandparents in a seafront café. Something tells them it is the right moment to answer his questions as to why they stay in this city so far away from his father and aunt, enduring the difficulties of old age in a country still troubled by public service strikes and general inefficiency. They all settle down for the unravelling that becomes this book.

The poignant love story between medical student Dimitri and expert seamstress/embroiderer Katerina is gently told. They are a pair always destined to be together despite being pulled apart by years of civil war and sabotage; however it the tale too of Thessaloniki, also known as Thessalonica. Victoria Hislop in her self confessed effort to `do the inhabitants of Thessaloniki justice' realistically recounts the numerous challenges of mostly dreadful daily life for three generations of family and friends from 1917 to 2007. This densely settled, polyglot, multi ethnic environment in a closely contained city by the Aegean Sea resembles an industrious anthill, knocked down but never quite out, routinely rebuilt after heaving earthquake, licking tongues of fire, rocket attacks, periods of famine, fear, great hardship and the careless boots of occupying oppressors.

Acts of cruelty don't just come from the gendarmes and soldiers. A businessman, Konstantinos Komninos is so selfish and uncaring as to be a cardboard pantomime villain. He marries mannequin Olga, a complicated sensitive creature and imagines he has competently crushed her as a butterfly on a gun carriage wheel. Her brother-in-law Leonidas plays more than a pivotal role in the story despite only making brief real life appearances. By the end I was left hoping he had been even more important a character, giving an explanation for long exiled freedom fighter Dimitri's heroic and innate goodness.

There are some terrible times to chronicle and you just know that the smoke from the gas ovens of the concentration camps will inevitably blow over the Jewish people we get to know and love. Reading the domestic detail of their rounding up and transportation is almost too much to bear; so touching are the last thoughtful and generous kindnesses shown to and by their friends. Those ghastly days are written fresh and clear, again repeating a lesson that can never be forgotten.

The amount of research that has gone into The Thread might seem overwhelming in its detail and exactitude. Subversives belonging to groups beginning with capital E fight in the mountains for years; in fact VH leaves them there so long she has to hurry everything up rather towards the end. Wonderful moments of reunion and enlightenment are crammed into the last few pages, their speedy conclusion breathlessly rushed compared to the pages of political news style blocks of text. It is a really good way to learn about the period though.

Deceit, disappointment, decisions based on tactical assessments of perceived realities all combine to create an almost farce like series of circumstances leading at one point to a very indulged portly gentleman punished for his sins by being fed like a fois gras goose to the point of explosion. I enjoyed that bit. I also loved the intricate and accurate descriptions of sewing, dressmaking, couture garment creation and amazing feats of needlework carried out on the highest levels of skill. The set up in the factory, comradeship of workers, relationship between the buyer and maker/modista, wealthy and poor, management of the client's expectations, the atmosphere of the warehouses, KK's all consuming love of cloth, silks, wool, all spring off the page.

Altogether it is packed with some pretty dense historical stuff, perhaps one to take on your Greek holiday although with the present day economic strictures being devised for Greece by Germany feelings may still run hot with general rebelliousness about the proposed financial measures understandable.

It seems there has always been an enemy at the gate for the folk of Thessaloniki, a fox ready to raid the hen coop, an ever present sense of danger from natural and the unnatural forces. Human nature at its best and worst is shown in these pages, a major achievement in novel form even if a sometimes the political swings and roundabouts were flying about too quickly for me to grasp.
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on 10 November 2011
Just couldn't put The Thread down. Perfect title that weaves so many lives and situations together.
The characters are all so interesting and distinctive. But the framework that holds everything together is Greece.
Such a skilful way to reveal an extraordinary history, particularly events that unfolded during world war two. Had to find out more and now appreciate the continuously flawless, but disturbing factual presentation that Victoria Hislop treats us to. Highly recommended.
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on 23 October 2012
Victoria Hislop can be relied upon for excellent historical research and her characters really come to life. This was a very enjoyable read equally as good as The Island. Having visited Greece on holiday in 1972 just after the Colonels were shot in Athens the book helps me to understand the background to tnis barbaric act.
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on 28 October 2012
I've read this author before and like her style of writing. She obviously loves Greece and her descriptions of the people and landscapes are very evocative. The reason I gave 4 stars instead of 5 was that this book lacked the passion and sincerity of The Island, a book I've read several times and recommended to friends. That being said this is an enjoyable book with fairly good characters if slightly two dimensional. The description of what the people suffered in the war and the cruel and random disruptions of their lives is heartrending. Defiantly a worthwhile read.
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