It was a different era when “The Island” was first published in 2005. The book became an international hit, selling more than 5 million copies, and forever tied the author, Victoria Hislop, with Greece. It has also been 10 years since the TV adaptation of the novel hit our screens, the most expensive local television production of all time, in 2010.
So there was an interesting geometry in the decision to make Hislop a Greek citizen earlier this summer. The British writer was named an honorary Greek by decree of President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, “for her important services toward Greece, for the international exposure she gave to the historic site of Spinalonga and her promotion of modern Greek culture and history.”
It is not just the fact that the world is in a state of vigilance and quarantine reminiscent of Spinalonga’s days as a leper colony on a much grander scale; it is also that Greece is opening its doors – and its heart – to Hislop at the same time as her country leaves the European Union. The author has often stated that above all she feels European.
“For me, Brexit was a tragedy,” she told Kathimerini over the telephone in the wake of her being named a Greek citizen. “It has been four years since the referendum, it was something really hard for me and I tried to change it, but it was impossible. It feels like being in a car that is driving toward a wall at high speed. The news from Greece, however, made me incredibly happy. It is like escaping from that dangerous car.”
Hislop had spoken in previous interviews about her desire to get Greek citizenship, but how often do wishes really come true? “It was a great honor, something that I was dreaming of but never thought would happen,” she said. Her Greek is almost perfect, yet she felt the need to apologize for a slight hesitation while searching for the right word. “It has been five months since I was last in Greece. I have forgotten my Greek. I’m sorry. Normally I should already be in Crete, I should have been there since Easter.”
Hislop visited Greece on her first trip abroad at the age 17 and has rarely stayed away for long since then. After all, she says that she makes the best “spanakopita” (spinach pie) in the world. With feta. In her opinion, “everything is better with feta.”
The slight delay in her travel plans came with a benefit. Just a few days ago she finished writing her new book, “One August Night,” in which she returns to Crete. The book is the much-anticipated sequel to “The Island.” The story starts on August 25, 1957, the night when Plaka celebrates the shutdown of the leper hospital as a cure has been found. “I finished it, in English, last night at midnight and sent it to my publisher.” It is expected to be released in the UK this October. “I’m assuming it will not take long before it is also published in Greece.”
As for herself, she was packing up her suitcases when we spoke and hopefully she’s on a beach in Crete right now. “I’m excited. I have been waiting for months.” There is also another reason for why she is so excited to be here with her new identity. “I am incredibly lucky with what has happened. Personally, whatever I can do for Greece I will keep doing it and I am sure I will find more inspiration. I never know what I will write in the future, but I know Greece is always an inspiration for me. It has given me so much and now has given me something more.”