Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Reader's List | The Island

I love books and although also love to travel, I'm not that much into travel books. Maybe the ones I've read were too boring or too much autobiographical for my taste. On the other hand, I must confess that many times, the plans to visit some place, country or city started with a book and, other times, reading a story located somewhere visited before brings the gift of remembrance, perhaps even more powerful than a photo or a film. The Island, was read with the memories of Crete and Spinalonga on the back of my mind  and is my choice to start this Reader's List of books that inspire to travel or evoque places already known.

Victoria Hislop´s The Island is a summer reading, nice, fluid, showing a good preparation and research on the subject and the location – the island of Spinalonga. Although not the kind of book that usually choose, after having spent some time in Crete, in a hotel just in front of Spinalonga, the curiosity to read it took over me. The book was a success and was even made a TV series (filmed on site) that became one of the biggest hits of the Greek television. All the shops of Plaka had the book for sale and when I got back home I had to bought a copy. Here it is a synopsis.

“On the brink of a life-changing decision, Alexis Fielding longs to find out about her mother’s past. But Sofia has never spoken of it. All she admits to is growing up in a small Cretan village before moving to London. When Alexis decides to visit Crete, however, Sofia gives her daughter a letter to take to an old friend, and promises that through her she will learn more.

Arriving in Plaka, Alexis is astonished to see that it lies a stone’s throw from the tiny, deserted island of Spinalonga – Greece’s former leper colony. Then she finds Fotini, and at last hears the story that Sofia has buried all her life: the tale of her great-grandmother Eleni and her daughters and a family rent by tragedy, war and passion.

She discovers how intimately she is connected with the island, and how secrecy holds them all in its powerful grip…”

The island was successively occupied by the Venetians, who built a fort there, and by the Turks. Already under Greek rule in the last century and until the late 50's housed a leper colony until the discovery of a cure for this disease enabled its inhabitants to return to their families.

Patients of Crete and from the continent were brought to this island where there were a hospital, but those inhabitants also had the experience of a small village with shops, church, school for children and cinema.

The houses had doors and windows painted in bright colors and had flowers and plants through the streets. We can still walk the streets of the village and although many houses are already without roof and falling apart on the main street is kept a museum and a shop.

During the summer there are  regular boat trips from Plaka and Elounda, and the tour around the island is nice (if early in the morning or late afternoon).

Trying to imagine what may have been the experience of that community, united in a common misfortune, and remember that many were closed in this small island to the end of their lives, made even more valuable  my health and the freedom to walk from one side to the other.

After the visit, the boat was coming and I could go back …

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