Happy publication day Suzanne Goldring! Burning Island is the most beautiful, richly layered story of tragedy and pain, challenge and hope, told through a dual timeline that is smoothly interwoven against the lush backdrop of the island of Corfu.
Corfu 1944 – the Jews who have, for many years, lived peacefully alongside their Greek neighbours, find their calm existence disrupted by the Nazi occupation. Perla and Isaac Nikorkiris know that soon they will be marched from their home, together with their 13-year-old daughter Rebekka, to un unknown destination. But there is still hope for their two younger daughters Matilde and Anna, who they have ensured were not registered, and therefore have not been included in any of the lists of Jewish names that the Nazi’s have compiled. They arranged to have them spirited away in the dead of night to a kindly couple who agree to look after them until after the war.
Corfu 1916 – James and his wife Amber escape the London rat-race for the sun-drenched island life, convinced by their friends Ben and Eleni, that they’ll be able to make a go of working and living here. With the help of knowledgeable, cocky Greg, who Ben introduces them to, their dream of setting up a Michelin star restaurant and hotel seems closer than ever, and they soon get to work setting up what they hope will be their future home together.
But although the island is beautiful and sunny, and people seem willing to befriend and help them, there is a darkness that lurks just beyond their horizon. There are local forces that are not so happy that foreigners are coming and setting up shop in their orchards and vineyards.
The story is cleverly recounted … not only in a dual timeline, but also from dual points of view. In 2016, we see things from both James’ and Amber’s perspective, and in 1944, the story alternates between what’s happening to Rebekka and her parents and to the two little girls left behind in the care of the kindly Agata and Georgiou.
There are numerous themes woven through this wonderful book. Obviously there’s the historical aspect, which I think is one that isn’t commonly known. The story of the Jews of Corfu isn’t one that’s been widely shared. Their tragic wrench from their simple, but comfortable lives; the horrific journey that followed and the fact that most didn’t even survive to see their final destination: Auschwitz. The ones who did, were so depleted by the end of it that they were mostly sent directly to the gas chambers. One has to wonder what on earth it was all for? Why did the Germans even go to all that effort of getting them there, just to murder them in the end?
Other themes were that of friendship, trust, greed, and the strength of female bonds and the roles that we play in each others’ lives. I loved how the women in this book supported each other, shared with each other and what they ultimately meant to each other. The importance of strong female mentorship and role-models became more and more evident as the book progressed.
I adored this book, and couldn’t put it down. It is a fabulous 5-star read, and ticks all the boxes required for a perfect page-turner!
Following an eventful career as a public relations consultant, specialising in business and travel, Suzanne Goldring turned to writing the kind of novels she likes to read, about the extraordinary lives of ordinary people. Her debut novel MY NAME IS EVA draws on her experience of volunteering in a care home and was partially inspired by a cache of wartime love letters which were saved from the flames. Her second novel, BURNING ISLAND, is set in Corfu, a place of fun and beauty but also tremendous tragedy.
Suzanne writes in her thatched cottage in Hampshire and a seaside cottage in Cornwall.
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