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A new novel, “The Thread” by Victoria Hislop, tells about the cataclysmic transformation of Thessaloniki, Greece, between WWI and the end of WWII. The city went through some tumultuous times after 1917, when a great fire destroyed 32 percent of its total area. At that time the city was inhabited just about equally by Christians, Muslims and Jews. After World War II, however, the city was inhabited only by Christians.
The story begins with a prologue describing a visit to Dimitri and Katerina, a talented seamstress, from one of their grandchildren, Mitsos, a university student, has been living in London. Dimitri and Katerina wanted to explain the reason behind their passionate refusal to ever leave Thessolaniki to live with their children in England or America.
Born in 1917, Dimitri Komninos is the child of a wealthy textile merchant and his beautiful wife. Devoted to increasing his wealth, Dimitri’s father ignores her when not in public. While their mansion is being restored after the fire, Dimitri and his mother live in a simple house on Irina Sreet, where his mother grew up and where she is immediately befriended by her Muslim and Jewish neighbors.
Among their neighbors is a Greek child, Katerina Sarafoglou, from Smyrna in Asia Minor. The Greeks and the Turks fought over Asia Minor for years, and in the early 1920s the Turkish army marched into Smyrna, setting fires and driving the Greek inhabitants to the sea.
Five-years-old Katerina became separated from her mother and sister in the chaos. A soldier, also Dimitri’s uncle, put her onto a boat to Thessaloniki, where she was taken in by a stranger, Eugenia, a mother with twin girls just a little older than she. Eugenia has everyone looking for Katerina’s mother, but until she is found, she keeps Katerina with her.
Ms. Hislop is a thorough researcher and weaves the lives of individuals with the backdrop of great events – the great fire, the German occupation and two expulsions of large segments of its population on religious grounds.
In parts of the novel however, the author fails to indicate how much time has passed. The prologue and epilogue
are set in present-day Greece while the rest of the story is set in the 20th century and covers almost a century.