Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop is the story of Themis Koralis from 1930 to 2016. Set in Greece it tells the troubled history of the country through the Second World War, occupation, Civil War and military dictatorship. They are harsh years; the country, its people and families are divided by beliefs, poverty and wealth. It is a long book, 496 pages, and a lot of history is covered.
Themis has two brothers – Panos and Thanasis – and a sister, Margarita; they live with their grandmother in the Athens district of Patissia. Their father is a merchant seaman and hardly comes home, their mother Eleftheria is in a psychiatric hospital; both appear briefly. Central to the home is Kyría Koralis. I enjoyed the descriptions of these early years in the apartment, the meals, the squabbling teenagers, Themis and her friendship with Fotini. But political beliefs are dividing the country and as the arguments grow in the Koralis apartment, they also divide the siblings. The divisions only get worse under German occupation, leading Panos and Themis to support the communists in the fight against the Nazis. Thanasis however becomes a policeman. Margarita, working in a dress shop, is secretly in love. Their political views, forged as teenagers, impact on the rest of their lives.
At times I struggled with this book, other sections I enjoyed. Perhaps this is because the linear narrative is driven by historical events which Hislop felt bound to include, and is not dynamic or character-driven. There are many peripheral characters who disappear without another mention and I found the middle section particularly slow, as if Themis is treading water before reaching the next phase of her life. The novel is effectively the life story of Themis, the history of Greece during her lifetime and its effect on her, and it includes a fascinating account of the post-WW2 communist rebellion in Greece, my knowledge of which was rather hazy. At times it is difficult reading and it is certainly thought-provoking; extreme views with two uncompromising sides unable to meet in the middle, quickly deteriorating to violence, cruelty and abhorrent behaviour.
Hislop is my go-to author for novels set in Greece. I finished Those Who Are Loved wishing she had chosen a specific phase of Themis’s life to concentrate on rather than the full 86 years. For me though, her subsequent novels cannot rival her debut The Island which I really must re-read again.
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THOSE WHO ARE LOVED by @VicHislop #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-40c via @SandraDanby