Twenty years ago, in the summer of 2001, English writer Victoria Hislop, went on holiday to the island of Crete in Greece, along with her family. At that time, she was writing travel columns for various important publications in Great Britain, and was working on a feature about the most mysterious islands in Europe.
When she arrived in Crete, she read on a local guide about “a small, remote island that was once a prohibited place, where only leprosy patients could go for treatment.”
A combination of curiosity and intuition – as she explained – led her to search for this small island and so, she took the road to Elounda, a famous touristic town on the northern coast of Crete. Near Elounda, she drove to the picturesque village of Plaka, which is located directly opposite of the island that she was looking for: Spinalonga (also known as Kalydon in modern Greek) .
She was thrilled to visit Spinalonga, because, as she said, “people did not go there only to die, but also to live and to survive.”
She felt so inspired and “seduced” by her trip to this tiny island of 0.085 km2, that she decided to write a novel about it instead of just a travel feature for her newspaper, and of course, the rest is history.
Her book ‘The Island’ (known as ‘To Nisi’ in Greece) was released in the United Kingdom in 2005, and became an international best-seller, selling over 6 million copies. In 2007, it was translated into Greek and soon became a huge success in Greece, which resulted in an even more successful and critically acclaimed 2010 TV series with the same name.
Today, ‘The Island’ has been translated into more than 35 languages and is considered the most famous modern work of literature on Spinalonga.
Her highly anticipated new novel, entitled ‘One August Night’, is the sequel to ‘The Island’, and is expected to be released in Greece in May 2021.
As Victoria Hislop stated, this particular return – not only narrative, but also emotional – was rather inevitable.
“I am finally okay now because I am in Crete. I am lucky to be here again, in this blessed place. The last few months I have spent in London have been quite difficult in the current pandemic circumstances. I felt like I was only seeing walls everywhere,” the 61-year-old author said.
“I think this is true for all the big cities, and for Athens too. Here, in Crete, I have once again an opening view to the sea, a horizon of peace and freedom. Of course, I do not see Spinalonga right outside my window, but I feel its presence, how close it is to me,” claimed Ms. Hislop, who is currently living in Agios Nikolaos, in Crete.
“If ‘The Island’ is really a shadow that still overshadows my work and what I do, then it is probably a dense and cool shadow that protects me from the intensity of the sun.”
“I wrote ‘One August Night’ last Spring, amidst the pandemic, in the exact same house where I had written ‘The Island’. The whole situation turned out to be very strange for me. In my mind, small similarities and analogies did not cease to emerge, between the current situation – the extensive isolation of the world due to an incurable disease – and the lives of the leprosy patients of Spinalonga.”
“They also had to live apart from their loved ones for many years, waiting for a cure. As I was writing, this connection was growing more and more inside me, but beyond that, on a completely personal level, I was already experiencing a deep sadness, and I, like many relatives of Spinalonga patients in the past, had to manage my own loss remotely,” Ms. Hislop added.
Just a few months ago, Victoria Hislop also received her honorary Greek citizenship for the world promotion of Spinalonga, modern Greek history and culture.
“It was a wonderful honour! With my Greek passport I feel less lost in this narrow-minded era after Brexit,” she mentioned.
“It is crucial for myself to spend here as much time as I can. It makes me feel good. My DNA is not Greek, but I am in love with Greece, something that I am afraid many Greeks have forgotten. I feel as they negatively criticize Greece too much and too unfairly, which is something that I could never do in any way.”
Additionally, the English writer did not fail to point out how “outraged” she is, “on a permanent basis”, with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson. She openly criticized him for “his excessive ambition and opportunism” and blamed him for “severing ties with the rest of Europe, which I consider my homeland.”
In fact, not long ago, she decided to officially join the movement for the return of the Parthenon Sculptures, as opposed to the official negative position publicly expressed by the Britain’s PM.
“I believe that the situation will gradually change to the point where there is no longer any doubt about the reunification of the marbles. I do not know how long it will take, but I am optimistic, as a new kind of sensitivity is being cultivated around the issue,” she said proudly.