Travel to Greece – Those Who Are Loved – Victoria Hislop
Victoria Hislop takes readers back in time to the Nazi occupation of Greece
There’s always a thrill in the air when Victoria Hislop releases a new book. She is one of these writers who seems to have a time machine as the way she captures the mood, the setting, the feel of Greece is amazing. In Those Who Are Loved. Victoria examines the effects not just of war, but the German occupation of Greece during WW2.
So, ready to climb into this time machine and become immersed in Victoria’s Greek history?
Location is central to this story. Can you tell us more?
The inspiration for Those Who are Loved came from a very specific place – the island of Makronisos, the infamous island of exile in Greece. Location has always been the starting point of any story I have written, and places often play a role that as important as the characters themselves. Another very significant place in the story is Athens, which is where much of the action of the story happens. It is not the Athens that most people will be familiar with. The Parthenon is very much a presence, of course, but the characters in the story mostly live in a very down-town residential area of the city, what I call the “real” Athens. It would be impossible to re-locate this book anywhere else since the history I describe actually took place in the exact places in the novel.
How you do evoke setting in your work?
I always spend as much time as possible in the places I am writing about – to soak in the atmosphere, take in the detail of the buildings, where one street is in relation to the centre and distances between one part of the city and the other, for example. And of course there are smells and sounds too – so I need total immersion.
Your novel is an important history lesson – we don’t seem to learn much about the occupation of Greece in UK schools or history books do we?
I would say that UK schools teach almost nothing about modern Greece – even though the fact that it was occupied was of huge strategic concern to Great Britain. There were British Special Forces (SOE) in Greece during the occupation and they helped the Greek resistance to undermine the Nazis. And then Churchill sent in troops after the Nazis left in order to ensure that the Greek communist forces didn’t achieve domination. There was a real fear that Greece could have become part of the communist bloc. The UK played a very important role in the fate of Greece following 1944 – it might be a footnote in some school text books but not much more – and personally I find the whole struggle fascinating.
Your portrayal of the human angle is admirable. How did you approach this?
Thank you for saying that! If I can interpret your comment, for me, the “human angle” is an examination of whether your humanity is defined by your politics. I think there are probably good and bad on both sides, and indeed someone whom we might label as “bad” can change (and vice versa). Left and Right in this period of history are most definitely not Black and White – the political situation was much more complex than that.
How did you research your novel?
Lots of travel around Greece, spending many months there, reading, looking at photographs of the period (photos are really important to me), talking to people, going into the archives.
How else do you get the sense of a place in your work? (the culture, language, habits etc)
I spend so much time in Greece that I think it’s actually under my skin now. The food is very familiar to me (and I think I mention this quite a lot). I have also learned the language so when my characters speak I try to reflect the idiom (even it’s in English). In addition, the role and traditions of the church are something I have become familiar. These are very important to the Greek way of life.
Have you ever travelled somewhere to see a literary setting of some kind?
Yes! To see the birthplace of Yannis Ritsos, the poet I mention several times in the book. He was a communist and for some of his life a political exile. He wrote poetry in the most difficult and adverse of conditions.
On Monemvasia in the Peloponnese, where he was born, there is a beautiful statue of him overlooking the sea there. I have taken the title from a line in his most famous poem – “Those who are loved, [they shall not die]”.
Many thanks Victoria for a wonderful insight into your new stunning novel!