The Crimson Thread by Kate Forsyth
Dr Kate Forsyth is an award-winning author, poet, and storyteller, and one of Australia’s favourite writers. She has a Doctorate of Creative Arts in fairy tale studies, and is also an accredited master storyteller with the Australian Guild of Storytellers. She has taught writing retreats in Australia, Fiji, Greece, and the United Kingdom, and often appears at writing workshops and events.
Kate’s latest novel, The Crimson Thread, is a reimagining of ‘The Minotaur in the Labyrinth’ myth, set in Crete, during the Nazi invasion and occupation of World War II. It’s a fast paced, action packed story, with multiple layers, that will draw you in from the opening pages, make you laugh and cry, and keep you wanting more. As with all of her books, Kate has meticulously researched the historical aspects of this story, including the real people who appear, and those who inspired fictional characters. She weaves the world of Crete with extraordinary skill, and you can see, smell, hear, feel and taste, the enivronment, as the locals and the allied forces, suffer under the brutality of the Nazis.
Kate explains in the author notes, how the various threads from her own history are woven with real events in Crete during WWII, and the mythology that inspired this book. I had little knowledge of this aspect of WWII and have gained a deep understanding of the impact on Crete and how the locals bravely worked with each other and allied forces, against the Nazis.
The story is told from three main points of view – firstly there is Alenka, a young Greek woman, who fights with the resistance against the brutal Nazi occupation. She finds herself caught between her traitor of a brother, Axel, who has his own internal battles to fight, and Australian soldiers and best friends, Teddy and Jack. Teddy is full of confidence and bravado, and Jack, who is sometimes shackled by his stutter, is gentle and kind and brave. They are both sent to Crete for different roles in the war and ultimately become entwined with Alenka and the ongoing occupation.
The story begins in May 1941 when German paratroopers launch a blitzkrieg from the air against Crete. They are met with fierce defiance, the Greeks fighting back with daggers, pitchforks and kitchen knives. During the bloody eleven-day battle, Alenka, saves the lives of both Teddy and Jack, who both fall in love with her. The two men are forced to retreat with the tattered remains of the Allied forces, across the towering White Mountains, and are among the 7000 Allied soldiers left behind in the desperate evacuation from Crete’s storm-lashed southern coast. They must try to stay hidden to survive long enough to be rescued.
Alenka hides Jack and Teddy, at great risk to herself. Her mother, Hesper, barely speaks, and Alenka is desperate to protect her too. Hesper is ever-present in the background and is one of the real heroes in this story. As Crete suffers great losses from the occupation and destruction that is set upon their home, Alenka is drawn into an intense love triangle with Jack and Teddy, whose friendship also suffers under the strain of months of hiding and their rivalry for her love. But together, they join the resistance and fight to free the island. All three will find themselves tested to their limits.
I adored this book. As I read, it was so richly described and intimately researched, that I felt as if I had been through the experiences. I was especially bonded to Alenka, who I identified with most strongly. I also connected deeply with Jack, and was hoping throughout the story, that he would somehow come out a winner. Teddy is a complex and difficut character to like, but this makes for a gritty and believable story and helps to raise the stakes. Alenka’s brother Axel, is a terrible young man, who is the product of his own insecurities and fears, and this becomes a great conflict for Alenka.
Despite the awful backgrounds of events against which this story is set, it is ultimately a tale of courage, friendship, love, and hope. It challenged me in considering the motivations for people’s actions and gave me an opportunity to consider what it must have been like to live in such circumstances. I devoured this book. I have been thinking about Alenka, Jack and Teddy, since finishing it, and this is always a sign of an excellent read for me.
Highly recommended and available everywhere you buy your books. Find out more about Kate and her work at her website.
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