Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for One August Night by Victoria Hislop which was published in paperback on 22nd July 2021. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour. Do look out for the posts by the other book bloggers hosting stops on the tour.
About the Book
25th August 1957. The island of Spinalonga closes its leper colony. And a moment of violence has devastating consequences.
When time stops dead for Maria Petrakis and her sister, Anna, two families splinter apart and, for the people of Plaka, the closure of Spinalonga is forever coloured with tragedy.
In the aftermath, the question of how to resume life looms large. Stigma and scandal need to be confronted and somehow, for those impacted, a future built from the ruins of the past.
Format: Paperback (320 pages) Publisher: Headline
Publication date: 22nd July 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction
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Being one of many thousands who loved The Island, I treated myself to a copy of One August Night when it was first published in October 2020. I’m sorry to say it’s been languishing in my To-Be-Read pile ever since so Anne’s invitation to join the blog tour marking the book’s publication in paperback was the perfect opportunity to take it down from the bookshelf and get stuck in.
One August Night returns readers to the island of Crete and the small village of Plaka, near Elounda. It also reunites them with some of the characters from The Island, in particular Anna Vandoulakis and her husband Andreas, Anna’s sister Maria and her husband Dr Nikos Kyritsis, and Manolis, Andreas’s cousin. Those who haven’t read The Island need not worry because key events from the last section of the earlier book are repeated, although this time experienced first hand by the reader; this means One August Night can definitely be read as a standalone.
The Island had a particular resonance for me having visited Spinalonga, the site of a former leper colony, many years ago during a holiday on Crete; it was a similar visit that inspired the author to write The Island. Long since abandoned, for me it possessed an eerie quality and it was unsettling to imagine the people living there, believing themselves exiled from friends and family forever. Interestingly, the author had a quite different reaction to her visit to Spinalonga, as she reveals in her Afterword.
One August Night focuses on events just prior to and after the return of those exiled on the island, a return made possible by the discovery of a cure for leprosy. You might think it a cause for celebration and indeed for some it is, bringing the prospect of being reunited with relatives and friends, and a return to something like a normal life, albeit that many bear the physical and mental scars of their illness. However, the return of others means bringing to the surface a tangled web of relationships, both past and present.
As always, Victoria Hislop creates a vivid picture of life in Crete and Greek culture more generally. I particularly enjoyed the way she described the traditional celebration of events such as baptisms and saint’s days at which there are always plentiful supplies of food and drink, including the locally produced raki. One scene that sticks in my memory is when Manolis visits a taverna where traditional music is being performed.
“Manolis suddenly caught the opening notes of a zeibékiko song and felt something inside him stir. The lyrics of this particular song seemed to mirror his life, jabbing at his heart. As if possessed by the power of the music, he rose from his seat… The movements were personal but the tradition of the zeibékiko was known to everyone. It was a dance that should only be performed by a man, and only by a man with grief to express. As the musicians played and the insistent beat thumped and repeated and thumped again, Manolis revolved slowly in a trance-like state, his eyes glazed, unfocused. Someone threw a plate at his feet and one of the girls tossed a flower that she had been wearing in her hair. He was aware of neither.”
It is at a celebration on an August night in Plaka intended to mark the return of those from Spinalonga, that a shocking event occurs. Although it’s an event that will be no surprise to those who have read The Island, One August Night concentrates on the ramifications for those involved, for their families and friends, as well as for the wider community. In recounting its consequences, the author explores the strong ties of family that underpin Greek society including the concept of philótimo, or honour.
Focusing particularly on the lives of Maria and Manolis in the years that follow, the author takes the reader beyond Plaka, and indeed beyond the island of Crete, as both Maria and Manolis struggle with the legacy of that eventful August night. Feeling she must find a way to repay the good fortune that saw her cured of leprosy and married to Nikos, Maria’s solution involves a breathtaking act of forgiveness. But despite being fully cured, the stigma of her leprosy remains although, as she observes, stigma can be a weapon in the right circumstances. Manolis’s solution is to try to banish the past and the memories that haunt him by seeking a new life away from Crete.
In One August Night the author creates a story that encompasses passion, jealousy and anger but shows how, in time, those feelings can be replaced by others and that, even after a tragedy, it is possible to find a degree of happiness and the release that comes from finally facing up to the truth.
Now I really must get around to reading Victoria’s previous novel, Those Who Are Loved, which I was lucky enough to hear her talk about at Henley Literary Festival in 2019. (You can read my review of the event here.) I’ve also recently added one of her earlier books, Cartes Postales from Greece, to my To-Be-Read pile and I’m looking forward to exploring more of her back catalogue.
In three words: Evocative, emotional, vibrant
Try something similar: Songbirds by Christy Lefteri
About the Author
Inspired by a visit to Spinalonga, the abandoned Greek leprosy colony, Victoria Hislop wrote The Island in 2005. It became an international bestseller, has sold more than six million copies and was turned into a 26-part Greek TV series. She was named Newcomer of the Year at the British Book Awards and is now an ambassador for Lepra.
Her affection for the Mediterranean then took her to Spain, and in the number one bestseller The Return she wrote about the painful secrets of its civil war. In The Thread, Victoria returned to Greece to tell the turbulent tale of Thessaloniki and its people across the twentieth century. Shortlisted for a British Book Award, it confirmed her reputation as an inspirational storyteller.
Her fourth novel, The Sunrise, about the Turkish invasion of Cyprus and the enduring ghost town of Famagusta, was a Sunday Times number one bestseller. Cartes Postales from Greece, fiction illustrated with photographs, followed and was one of the biggest selling books of 2016. The poignant and powerful Those Who Are Loved was a Sunday Times number one hardback bestseller in 2019 and explores a tempestuous period of modern Greek history through the eyes of a complex and compelling heroine. Victoria’s most recent novel, One August Night, returns to Crete in the long-anticipated sequel to The Island. The novel spent twelve weeks in the Top 10 hardback fiction charts. Her books have been translated into more than thirty-five languages.
Victoria divides her time between England and Greece and in 2020, Victoria was granted honorary citizenship by the President of Greece. She was recently appointed patron of Knossos 2025, which is raising funds for a new research centre at one of Greece’s most significant archaeological sites. She is also on the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles.