Victoria Hislop’s, third novel, The Thread is an intimate tale of the lives of the people in Thessaloniki, Greece. The tale deals with wider issues of war, politics and immigrants influencing this city and uses these to look more in depth at how individuals’ lives are affected.
The reader follows the life little Katerina after the Turkish army destroy her home in Asia Minor. Her life is changed forever as she is forced to flee with nothing. In Greece, Dimitri is born to a wealthy textiles owner. But devastation shakes the community when an accidental fire ravages the city mixing the inhabitants and wiping out homes and businesses. During this, Dimitri and Katerina’s lives are bound together forever.
Through poor Katerina we are exposed to an ever evolving community. Dimitri’s life plays more of a political role and offers us access to the inner workings of the wealthy. The community itself is one of contrasts and struggles; the tight-knit, multi-cultural working class never to be found with a closed door contrasts, yet co-exists, with the wealthy inhabitants, locked away in their mansions.
Hislop ties these people’s lives and relationships together through their continual struggles; some of which are self-imposed and some of which are cast so brutally upon them by both God and man. Each character is a well written individual, yet is tied to the community and unified by their connection to Thessaloniki.
A thread is woven through this story with the modistra (seamstress), Katerina. It weaves through a hard working Jewish family, wealthy Greeks, Muslims, friends, family, the rich and the poor. Using what has traditionally been seen a female pursuit, the craft of sewing is used to tie the pieces of this community and story together. This thread offers us an opportunity to see how characters utilize this skill: from domestic pleasure to purely commercial gain to hiding important secrets.
Hislop uses sewing in a similar way to Alice Walker’s Colour Purple and Tracey Chevalier’s The Lady and the Unicorn. The oppressed are brought together through a common craft and skill. It is, more importantly, a support network. The Colour Purple, for all its trauma and devastating events, uses this technique to offer the protagonist respite and a glimmer of light. The companionship, support, a little piece of serenity, safety among female confidantes and a tiny bit of self-confidence at the completed job, are all positive elements which have been used throughout history to unite; now, these elements are being used to tell a story.
There is so much more to traditional crafts and Hislop is another writer who shows us just how important this seemingly insignificant past-time is.
The book’s not perfect: sometimes elements are a little over explained, but it’s definitely worth a read. Not just for the story, but for its technique too. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and it’s pace makes it an easy page-turner. It’s an entertaining, fascinating and even an educational read as Hislop’s historically factual details are mixed with fictional lives.