Salonika Burning

Gail Jones

Salonika Burning
Text Publishing
3 October 2023

Salonika Burning

Gail Jones

Winner of the 2023 ARA Historical Novel Prize - Adult Category

Macedonia, 1917. The great city of Salonika is engulfed by fire as all of Europe is ravaged by war.

Amid the destruction are those who have come to the frontlines to heal - surgeons, ambulance drivers, nurses, orderlies and other volunteers. Four of them - Stella, Olive, Grace and Stanley - are at the centre of Gail Jones's extraordinary new novel, which takes its inspiration from the wartime experiences of Australians Miles Franklin and Olive King, and British painters Grace Pailthorpe and Stanley Spencer. In Jones's imagination these four lives intertwine and change, each compelled by the desire to create something meaningful in the ruins of a broken world.

Immersive and gripping, Salonika Burning illuminates not only the devastation of war but also the vast social upheaval of the times. It shows Gail Jones to be at the height of her powers.


Having won numerous literary awards, and been shortlisted three times for the Miles Franklin, Gail Jones once again showcases her talent for writing memorable characters and poignant storylines with this latest work of historical fiction, Salonika Burning.

It is 1917, and while war devastates Europe, the great Greek city of Salonika, now known as Thessaloniki, is on fire. More than two-thirds of the city is destroyed, and tens of thousands are left homeless. In response, surgeons, ambulance drivers, nurses, orderlies and other volunteers from around Europe and Australia come to Greece’s aid, including our four protagonists, Olive, Stella, Grace and Stanley. As their lives intertwine with one another, we see through their eyes how life and beauty persist in a world so adamant on destroying it.

Jones’ characters are inspired by actual historical figures who were in Greece from 1916 to 1917: Olive King, an ambulance driver and daughter of a wealthy Sydney banker; Stella Miles Franklin, more commonly known as Miles Franklin, an orderly and assistant cook who went on to become a leading Australian author and feminist; Grace Pailthorpe, a British surgeon who later became a Freudian psychoanalyst and surrealist painter; and Stanley Spencer, a combat medic who emerged as one of Britain’s most famous painters of the 20th century. Reading through Jones’ novel, however, they are just four people, all so young and naïve to the horrors of war. They are terrified and unsure of their roles in this scene of destruction, and yet they grip onto their dreams and their hopes for the future with a steady heart. The mettle and fortitude of these characters burn brighter than any fire, bringing to light the selfless acts of those who toil behind the scenes, for they are the backbone of success and perseverance in the face of chaos.

Aurelia Orr is from Readings Kids

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