Title: Maria’s Island
Author: Victoria Hislop
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Walker Books
Published: 2nd June 2021
Synopsis: A dramatic and moving story set in the same world as the international bestseller The Island from the celebrated novelist Victoria Hislop.
The absorbing story of the Cretan village of Plaka and the tiny, deserted island of Spinalonga – Greece’s former leper colony – is told to us by Maria Petrakis, one of the children in the original version of The Island. She tells us of the ancient and misunderstood disease of leprosy, exploring the themes of stigma, shame and the treatment of those who are different, which are as relevant for children as adults. Gill Smith’s rich, full-colour illustrations will transport the reader to the timeless and beautiful Greek landscape and Mediterranean seascape.
- A powerful and enchanting story which explores stigma and shame in an accessible and gentle way.
- The original adult version of The Island has sold over 5 million copies worldwide, including 1 million copies in the UK alone, and has been translated into 35 languages. It was the winner of Richard & Judy’s Summer Read and the Sunday Times number one paperback for eight weeks. A sequel is being published in autumn 2020 by Headline Books.
- As an acclaimed novelist, and with her previous background in PR, Victoria is highly experienced in engaging with publicity and events. She is passionate about Greece, having explored, studied and written about the country for around 40 years, and has five adult books exploring different eras and aspects of Grecian life.
In her 2007 novel, Victoria Hislop explored the Island of Spinalonga near Crete, a leper colony where those who had leprosy in the early 20th century were sent – and until a treatment discovered, they had to stay there for the rest of their lives. Victoria Hislop has taken the story of one of the children of the island and retold it. The original novel tells Eleni’s story, but this one tells the story of her daughter, Maria, and what happened to Maria when she went to the island and in the years afterwards.
Historical fiction is one good way to expose or tell stories that we may not have heard about. Maria tells her granddaughter the story of her family and the leper colony that shut down once a cure was found, yet those affected still faced discrimination. In doing so, she sheds light on the misunderstood disease, and by extension, this story could open up discussions about other illnesses and disabilities that are commonly misunderstood, either through misinformation or because people, much like some of the people in Maria’s life, are not willing to make the effort. This book shows that even though things seem scary and uncertain, there will come a time when something can be done about it, and those who stay with us are the ones we can trust – they are the ones who are likely to believe in us and be the ones who get us through.
Books that feature disability or illness in some ways are becoming more prominent and widely available and will hopefully go a long way to helping show people that these things are not something to be scared of or to shun completely, but instead, make an effort to understand what is going on. This beautifully illustrated book is carefully researched and written and seeing this world through the eyes of a child gives it a sense of hope and gravitas that shows nobody is immune from illness or disability – it can happen to any of us at any time. The illustrations by Gill Smith are just as evocative as the words, which are simple. Yet they are also filled with a weight that suggests so much more is to come than what we initially read. There are times when you feel so hopeful yet something will let you down – but knowing that Maria must be telling the story, means that perhaps there is a better outcome for her than we are led to believe. This is the power of this book – to make us feel everything from joy and hope to despondency, and everything in between.
It also celebrates the importance of family and rituals of various cultures and the little things that are important to us as people. This touching book can make us feel so much, and make us learn as well. it is beautifully done, and exquisite in its execution. Older readers will find so much within this book, and whilst it might make people ask questions, this can only be a good thing as we can go away and learn more about leprosy, Spinalonga and any other disabilities or diseases we do not understand and from here, make a better world for those who might be affected by whatever it is, like Maria and her family and friends.