05 July 2022

Review: The Crimson Thread by Kate Forsyth

The Crimson Thread by Kate Forsyth book cover

* Copy courtesy of Penguin Random House *

It feels like an abundance of historical fiction set in WWII has been published in the last 5 years and I'm close to reaching my saturation point, but made an immediate exception for one of my favourite Australian authors Kate Forsyth.

The Crimson Thread by Kate Forsyth is an historical fiction novel set during WWII in Crete, an island of Greece. Our protagonist Alenka Klothakis is a local and part of the fierce resistance mounted by the Cretans against the German invasion in 1941. The 11 day Battle of Crete (in which 11,000 soldiers and civilians were killed and injured) was expertly written and I cheered the locals as they attacked and killed as many of the German paratroopers as they could with whatever they had to hand. Alenka offers to help the Allied Forces in a makeshift hospital:
"Alenka soon understood why. She had never seen such pain and suffering before. On every side men held out pleading hands, some weeping. She carried buckets of water in and stinking bedpans out, rolled bandages till her hands ached, scrubbed blood off floors, boiled surgical instruments in one pot and soup in another, and held the hand of one poor young man till he died." Page 96
Australian soldiers Teddy and Jack were compelling characters and their relationship with Alenka and other members of the resistance drove the story forward in a unique way. I think readers will love Jack and while Teddy was much less likeable, his motivations throughout the war were - unfortunately - all too realistic.

This was a five star read but for two quibbles. The first was the way in which the novel began which is both a compliment and a minor quibble. The beginning was so magical and evocative I wanted to stay there. Forever. Instead I was wrenched unwillingly into Alenka's adolescent years and the seemingly sudden beginning of the war. The transition from Alenka's childhood memories straight into the war seemed way too quick for me and out of step with the pace set in the opening few pages. Perhaps I was so keen for another book like Bitter Greens (my all time favourite novel by Kate Forsyth) that my mind raced away in an unrelated direction and I resented leaving Alenka's Yia Yia behind after just meeting her.
"Yia-Yia knew many stories of gods and heroes, giants and nymphs, and the Three Fates who spun and measured and cut the thread of life. Many of Yia-Yia's tales were strange and terrible. A girl who was turned into a tree. A woman cursed with snakes for hair. Another whose tongue was cut out and who could only tell her story by embroidering it upon a cloth. The story Yia-Yia told most often, though, was that of the minotaur in the labyrinth, for it was the mythos of Alenka's home, the ruins of the palace of Knossos in the island of Crete." Page 3
Can you blame me for wanting to read a book of Yia-Yia's telling after that paragraph on the opening page? The second quibble comes towards the end of the novel and I can't mention much without potentially spoiling it for others. Suffice to say, a main character acts completely out of keeping with the circumstances and her choices seemed incredibly simplistic and uncharacteristic after what she had endured during the German occupation.

Now that's off my chest, let me tell you The Crimson Thread is the perfect title for this novel, and I loved the references to embroidery and the thread of fate stitched throughout the pages. The way in which embroidery was used to record and exchange messages, and as a respite from the Nazi occupation was inspiring. I know the author started to embroider in preparation for writing this book and it clearly shows. I love to cross-stitch and picking it up again after an unplanned but lengthy hiatus recently, my heart was warmed any time a stitch was sewn in the book.

The Crimson Thread by Kate Forsyth is highly recommended for fans of historical fiction; even those wary of 'another' WWII novel.

My Rating:

Would you like to comment?

  1. That’s a terrific review Tracey! I want to read the book just on your descriptions of it, in spite of its couple of nuisance bits, it sounds like a good read. 😊

    1. Thanks so much! I think you're going to see many 5 star reviews from other readers for this one and I think you'll love it. I'm just a little tough on my favourite authors and reserve the full 5 star ratings for those perfect reads 😉

  2. There is certainly no shortage of WWII books. Bitter Greens is my favourite Kate Forsyth books too!

    Thanks for sharing with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge!

    1. Thanks Marg, I love that we both share Bitter Greens as our favourite Kate Forsyth novel.

  3. I know what you mean about reaching your saturation point on WWII novels, I think I reached mine last year. There are a few authors I really enjoy, but even those I've put aside for the time being. This one is definitely on my list for sometime in the future though. I enjoyed your review.

    1. Thanks Claire, I think a few readers are feeling like we are at the moment. The good news is that those books will still be there after we've had a 'break' and will be ready and waiting when we're ready to delve back into that time in history. I think you'll enjoy this when the time is right 😉


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