It is books like this that remind you, in small ways, how fortunate we are to live in the 21st century when illnesses and diseases that were once considered a death sentence are now curable. One such disease is leprosy which provides the background for this debut novel.

Very often associated with Biblical times, it may be shocking to people to learn that in Europe as recently as 1957, victims of this disease were sent into isolation. The last known leper colony in Europe was the island of Spinalonga off the coast of Crete. This is the island of the novel’s title.

Alexis Fielding is a 25-year-old living in London who knows very little about her background other than the fact that her mother comes from Crete. For whatever reason, her mother refuses to discuss her past. Frustrated by her silence, Alexis decides to take her own journey to her mother’s home village, Plaka, to discover the truth that her mother will not speak of. Through an old family friend, in the heat of the Cretan sun, Alexis learns of her family history. Of her great grandmother, Eleni, and her two daughters, Maria and Anna.

More crucially she learns of the sad past of the now deserted island, just 1km from Plaka. And how her family’s past is forever linked to this place where the shunned inhabitants tried to maintain some level of normalcy amidst their pain and isolation. In a culture where family is everything, how can a family continue when it is ripped apart?

Willow Coby