The Last Dance

The Last Dance and Other Stories

By Victoria Hislop

In this collection of evocative short stories Victoria captures the intimate lives of the Greek people.  Through her intricate observations of daily life she allows the reader to be drawn into poignant events through memorable characters.

The detailed description is what makes Victoria’s writing come to life.  She doesn’t skip the grime or sadness – in fact she embraces it and uses it to evoke the atmosphere of a place and the heart of a person.

“It was the silent hour.  The wind had dropped, traffic had disappeared, pedestrians had vanished.  It was hard to tell whether the stray, still dogs in the shade were alive or dead.  Flies seemed to be the only living creatures, ceaselessly flitting from one animal to the other.” P69

The Lesson captures the intensity of a bond between two children just beginning their school lives together.  Giannis is constantly berated and humiliated by his overbearing teacher who is annoyed by his disobedience and defiance of her authority.  The children are inseparable and the teacher takes huge offence to their defiance as they continue to remain in each other’s company as long and as frequently as possible.  Once grown a chance encounter brings Giannis and his teacher back together.

One story tells of feuding butchers with grudges from the past while another sees a saddened mother watching her twin sons competing ferociously with each other to the detriment of their relationship.  Another is a wistful love story with a beautiful and intriguing opening:

“In a Melbourne suburb, a young man was unpacking.  He retrieved two small objects from the bottom of his suitcase, removed several layers of tissue and placed them carefully on his desk.  Apart from the key ring of the Parthenon that he had been given by his aunt, they were his sole souvenir from Greece.  The figures, a bear and an eagle, were perfect in every detail and he would treasure them.” p57

All the stories (typical of Victoria’s writing) are thought provoking and enjoyable to read.  The benefit of a short story is it doesn’t take too much time to read.  And because it is like an emotional capsule – capturing a moment – you don’t feel short changed; you feel like you’ve just peeped through a window and witnessed an argument, an intimate kiss or a lonely tearstained face.

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The Thread Review

The Thread

 

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.

 

The Thread by Victoria Hislop

 

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.