Monday, March 15, 2010

Review: The Island

Summary: The Petrakis family lives in the small Greek seaside village of Plaka. Just off the coast is the tiny island of Spinalonga, where the nation's leper colony once was located—a place that has haunted four generations of Petrakis women. There's Eleni, ripped from her husband and two young daughters and sent to Spinalonga in 1939, and her daughters Maria, finding joy in the everyday as she dutifully cares for her father, and Anna, a wild child hungry for passion and a life anywhere but Plaka. And finally there's Alexis, Eleni's great-granddaughter, visiting modern-day Greece to unlock her family's past.

A richly enchanting novel of lives and loves unfolding against the backdrop of the Mediterranean during World War II, The Island is an enthralling story of dreams and desires, of secrets desperately hidden, and of leprosy's touch on an unforgettable family. -- Harper

For my book club's March meeting, we read THE ISLAND by Victoria Hislop. Last week I gave a summary of our meeting, but I hadn't had a chance to write my review yet. I'm finally getting around to it -- better late, than never, right? I really, really liked THE ISLAND and this novel gave me a lot to think about.

THE ISLAND is a relatively big book -- almost 500 pages; and yet, I was able to read it in just a few sittings. The book was obviously very interesting to me, but it was also very well written. It was just a book that I didn't want to put down, and it definitely didn't read like a chunkster. The descriptions of Greece were beautiful, the dialogue was natural, and the characters were well developed. I thought the author had a knack for drawing me in and making me become caught up in Maria's life (it didn't hurt that she was just so nice and likable.)

Rarely do I read a book where I like so many of the characters, but the entire Petrakis family and their friends were so sweet. I loved Maria because she just symbolized pure good, but I also thought her parents were marvelous (and so strong.) The only weak link in the family was Maria's sister Anna who was just despicable. Anna definitely personified evil, and she was one of the most selfish characters that I have come across in my recent reading. It's too bad that some of her genes flowed down into the other characters.

In some ways, THE ISLAND reminded me a bit of MOLOKA'I by Alan Brennert. There are a lot of similarities especially since MOLOKA'I was also about a young woman being banished to a leper colony. So many of the thoughts and feelings I had while reading MOLOKA'I resurfaced when I read THE ISLAND. Ms. Hislop did a terrific job of not only exploring what it would be like to contract leprosy, but also how people didn't give up when they received their diagnoses. I loved seeing the strength and resilience of the people who were isolated because of their disease. And in many ways, I found these people and their "town" to be more advanced and civilized than from where they had left.

I did have a few issues with the story which I hesitate to even bring up in my review because overall, this book was very enjoyable. But I did think the strength of the novel was the flashback to the Petrakis family's story -- I loved this part. The first few chapters which set up the story and the last few didn't seem to be as effective as the rest of the novel -- I even thought the modern day characters were a little flat and I didn't think the writing was as good. In addition, I thought the last few chapters were kind of wrapped up too quickly for a 500 page novel. But these issues only affected a few pages of an otherwise wonderful story!

I highly recommend
THE ISLAND for book clubs who enjoy literary fiction and/or historical fiction. Our entire group thoroughly enjoyed the book (except for the first few and last few chapters), and we found a great deal to discuss. There is a reading guide available, but we ended up covering most of the questions without even needing to reference it. Some of the themes your group might explore include family dynamics, secrets, death, grief, love, sibling rivalry, resilience, compassion, sacrifice, and hope.

I highly recommend THE ISLAND if you are a fan of historical fiction books, especially ones set around World War II. Of course, the entire storyline surrounding the leprosy colony and Greece didn't hurt either. I found so much of this book to be fascinating (as did my entire book club), and I think many of you will agree.

Thanks to Book Club Girl for sending me a copy of this book a few years back!

15 comments:

bermudaonion said...

This sounds like historical fiction I would probably like! I've always wanted to visit Greece!

Sandy Nawrot said...

I was intrigued to find out, when I was in Maui a couple of weeks ago, that Molokai HAD been a leper colony. I really had no idea, and immediately my mind went in a hundred different directions, wishing I knew more! I will keep this selection in mind for our book club, if ever they need a helping hand from me! (ha)

S. Krishna said...

This book sounds fascinating! Im' definitely putting it on my TBR list. Thanks for the review.

Kay said...

Julie, thanks for sharing your review. I have both The Island and Molokai here at home to read at some point.

Amused said...

I just got another one of her books - The Return - and I like it as much as you did this one!

Beth Hoffman said...

Thanks for your terrific review. This book intrigues me and I'm going to add it to my TBR list (which is out of control) LOL!

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

Wow, this sounds fascinating. I'm adding it to my TBR list. Great review.

Mystica said...

I read this book a year ago and couldnt put it down. Seldom met a more enthralling read. So personal and very descriptive.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I'm always admiring of someone who gets through a 500 page book in "just a few sittings"!!!

Barbara said...

thanks for sharing. loved both The Island and The Return.

Jenny Girl said...

This sounds like a great way to get some Greek culture into my reading. If at 500 pages you were enjoying it the whole time it must be good. Thanks for the recommendation.

Beth F said...

Wow! I have to get this one (later in the year!). Sounds like my kind of book.

Darlene said...

Great review Julie. This really sounds good plus I don't think I've read anything based around Greece before. At least not that I can remember.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

I read this a few years ago, and really enjoyed the history that the author put into it. I remember liking the older/central characters so much, and found the society on the colony fascinating.

Like you, I felt the current-day story and characters felt a little rushed or underdeveloped (a bit predictable?).

Have you read her current novel, THE RETURN?

Anna said...

You've made me add this book to my to-read list. This sounds great. Have you read The Return? I really liked that one.

I hope it's okay to link to your review on the WWII book reviews page on War Through the Generations.

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric