One Illumined Thread

Sally Colin-James

One Illumined Thread
HarperCollins Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd
8 March 2023

One Illumined Thread

Sally Colin-James

A beautiful, enthralling and powerfully resonant story of three women, separated by centuries, yet connected to each other through a thread of longing, a yearning for independence and a singular spirit - for readers of Geraldine Brooks, Sarah Winman, Maggie O'Farrell and Pip Williams.

In Judea, a woman yearns to be a mother but is outcast when she cannot bear a child. Against all convention, she takes up the art of glassblowing. A young woman in Renaissance Florence is left penniless by her feckless husband, and has to find a way to support herself and her young son. And in contemporary Australia, an Australian textile conservator, whose grief is destroying her life, is trying to make a fresh start.

These three women each want something that seems unattainable - and it will take all their courage, creativity and determination to achieve it. Each woman knows what she must do. But what these women don’t know is that their stories are inextricably linked.

A stunning, sweeping historical novel that takes the reader from the savagery of King Herod’s Judea and the tumultuous, artistic city of Renaissance Florence right through to the present day, One Illumined Thread celebrates the power and creative spirit of the female heart; the unshakeable bond between mother and child; and women’s eternal fight to overcome oppression, as three women separated by centuries find freedom through an extraordinary connection.


I read One Illumined Thread in November 2022, not knowing I would be reviewing it, and now I find my brain searching for detail, worrying all I have is the essence of this enthralling book. So, join me in this quest to remember.

Inspired by a painting in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, The Visitation, Sally Colin-James tells of three women whose creativity is spurred on by tragedy and powerlessness. Their stories are historically connected by creativity and a need to fill the void.

It begins in Hebron 41BC at the time of King Herod’s brutal and murderous reign. A young woman with the shame of ‘her’ infertility turns to glassblowing as a means of escape and eventually becomes a successful craftswoman.

In Renaissance Florence, a girl escapes from her harsh parents and life in their taverna to a church where hangs a painting of Mary and Elisheva, one the mother of Jesus, the other of John the Baptist. She is captivated by it and one day becomes betrothed to the artist, a contemporary of Michelangelo. After a terrible incident, she begins to explore ways to make a white paint for artists that is so translucent it signifies purity and divine light.

In Adelaide 2018, a textile conservator is working on a 400-hundred-year-old embroidery based on The Visitation. Living a solitary life, and as an escape from a trauma, she immerses herself in the stories of the two women at the centre of the embroidery.

One Illumined Thread enveloped me in the richness of the stories and the recreation of times and places, particularly those set in Ancient Judea. Colin-James seamlessly weaves the connecting narratives of these strong women who endure the ignominy of a male-dominated world.

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