on 6 January 2002
one of my favourites of all time, as it is not only hilarious and romantic, but vividly descriptive and horribly tragic, all at the same time. whatever you do, don't watch the film! it's a terrible attempt to recreate the magic of the novel, and fails badly.
Winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1995, Captain Corelli's Mandolin follows for sixty years the life of Pelagia and those who love her, beginning in World War II, when she and her father, a doctor on the small Greek island of Cephalonia, first get drawn into the war. Attractive and intelligent, Pelagia thinks herself in love with Mandras, an illiterate Greek fisherman who leaves for war. When the island is overtaken by the ineffectual Italian army, Captain Antonio Corelli is billeted in their small house. Corelli, whose response to "Heil, Hitler" was once "Heil, Puccini," is a musician, a mandolin player, who quickly establishes a singing group (meeting in the company's latrines) in preference to waging war. By the time the wounded Mandras returns, Pelagia and Corelli are in love.
Author deBernieres vividly depicts the various political movements which play out in Cephalonia--the Italian occupation; the German "cleansing" in which the Germans, nearly defeated in Europe, exact revenge on the Italians who have, with a change of government, withdrawn their support; and the later Communist insurgency in Greece and their opposition by fascist partisans. Always connecting these events to the lives of Pelagia, her father, Mandras, and Corelli, the author gracefully depicts the impact of political changes on the lives of ordinary people.
The horrors of the German revenge on the Italians reflect the wartime mentality and contrast with the good feelings various participants have been able to engender on a personal level. With the withdrawal of the Italians and Germans, the horrors of internecine warfare within the Greek community, and the extremes to which partisans, including Mandras, are willing to go are subjected to microscopic views.
DeBernieres is equally adept at contrasting idealistic young love with the institutionalized mindlessness of political passion, the love of the arts and history with the expediencies of political dogma, and one's personal commitments to other individuals with the commitments to ideologies. Realistic at the same time that it is also romantic, the novel conveys the absurdities of politics and places them within the context of real life. The author's exuberant, descriptive style enlivens the present in Greece while also emphasizing the culture of the past, leading the reader to recognize, ultimately, that in all times, wherever one finds wit and humor, one also finds pathos lurking in the background. Mary Whipple
on 15 April 2003
When I finished this book I had a different view on both life and people and I encouraged everyone to read it for its wit, its intense love and its beauty. Im not saying it was life changing but it was thoroughly absorbing: de Bernieres ability to make me laugh and smile against my will and at the same draw copious amounts of tears was remarkable. All the characters are very human and appealing despite their numerous flaws and inevitable tragic fate. It is a touching portrayal of love both, homosexual and heterosexual, and the conflicts within people that arise at times of war. It also proves that love is not merely for the young but also for the old, and that it does often survive. It is not merely a love tale, it is full of history, fighting, comedy and pain and as my english professor repeatedly says it is worth reading because even if you do not find it enjoyable it will increase your vocabulary and knowledge of myth and the war ten fold! I warn you that the first few chapters are difficult but if you persevere you will find it thoroughly rewarding.
on 16 September 2008
This book is a fantastic read that starts toward the end of World War 2 and covers generations.
The tale tells of a young Greek girl and an eccentric Italian Captain finding love during the Italian "occupation" of the Greek island of Cephallonia, although the Italian army hardly treats it as such due to disenchantment with having to fight for reasons & ideals they do not share with their leaders.
The author creates extremely tangible scenes, people & feelings that you're left feeling like you really knew the characters & places.
There are a few strange plot-holes but this in no way detracts from the overall story and I was actually quite gutted that it had to end!
A really good read that everyone will enjoy & appreciate I think.
on 29 September 2015
This was a re-read for me, and though I didn't perhaps enjoy it second time around quite as much, it is nevertheless a good read which stands the test of time. Louis de Bernieres presents the story of a doomed love that endures many decades, and though you have to run with some fairly unlikely behaviour in order to push this storyline to its ultimate conclusion I defy any reader not to feel a warm glow at the end. The love story though is perhaps the least of it. What de Berniers captures well is the beauty of Greece and her people - their pride, their courage, their warmth and kindness and generosity - even today the poorest of the poor will share their food with a total stranger.
"There would be time enough to wake, to eat bread sprinkled with oregano, count his flock, and chivvy them to a place of pasture. His life was timeless, he might have been one of his own forebears, and his goats too would do as Cephallonian goats had always done; they would sleep at noon, concealed from the sun on the vertiginous northern slopes of cliffs, and in the evening their plangent bells might be heard even in Ithaca, carrying across the silent air and causing distant villagers to look up, wondering which herd was passing close".
I promise you, there are parts of Greece, even today, where life is still like this - though it's true there are a lot more pick-up trucks around -where the hub of the village is the tiny kafenion, where the menfolk (and it is menfolk) gather and nurse a coffee with a glass of water for hours, often silent, sometimes 'chewing the cud', always watching - there's not much that goes on in a traditional Greek village that they miss!! And de Bernieres captures this with great warmth and love. He's perhaps a little self-conciously erudite at times, but I can forgive him much for transporting me to a Greece I know well and love more.
It is also oceans - light years - incomparably better than the movie.
on 2 January 2016
A wonderful story about the Greek island, Kephalonia / Cephallonia during World War II. It covers the lives of the Greeks, Germans and Italians during this time in such depth that you really connect with all the characters. De Bernieres has such a detailed and poetic way of writing that makes you feel as though you are really there. He captures the beauty of the island so perfectly, we actually felt like we had already been there when we visited a few years after I first read this - it was so nostalgic!
I cared so much about the characters and their lives that the only disappointment for me was the last couple of chapters, when the story raced through a number of decades. Although it was really interesting how De Bernieres showed so accurately how the island has changed since the earthquake of 1953 and the introduction of mass tourism to the island from the 1980s to present day, I felt that this could have been covered in more detail - perhaps even into a second book (similarly to how he composed the Columbian Trilogy). It felt melodramatic to have so much happen at the end and then I felt extremely sad at the final conclusion - although I do understand why the author felt he had to end it like this.
An extra plus for this copy of the book is the wonderful cover, designed by paper cutting artist Rob Ryan, that looks beautiful on my bookshelf.
A must read for anyone who is interested in the world wars, in Greek and Italian culture, or romantic fiction.
on 29 June 2016
I have seen the film, visited the island several times and now, reading the book I can picture everything that happens in the real locations. I laughed, cried, agonised and mourned with the characters as their lives unfolded. But above all I am more knowledgeable about how the Greek islanders suffered during WWII, not just at the hands of the invaders but also later, at the hands of fellow countrymen in their own civil war. I know this is a book I will read, and read again. Some say the first 100 pages are not an easy read and folk give up. My advice is nothing worth having should come easy; persevere and you will not be disappointed.
on 21 December 2015
A love novel (not usually my cup of tea, however this is a favourite of mine)
It is set in 1941 during World War II, Captain Antonio Corelli, a young Italian officer, is posted to the Greek island of Cephallonia as part of the occupying forces. At first he is ostracised by the locals who despise his nationality and the brutality they stand for, but as a conscientious but far from fanatical soldier, whose main aim is to have a peaceful war, he proves in time to be civilised, humorous - and a consummate musician.
When the local doctor's daughter's letters to her fiancé - and members of the underground - go unanswered, the working of the eternal triangle seems inevitable. But can this fragile love survive the war on country and hearts?
on 12 June 2000
I come from Greece and I have read the book both in my native language and english. As it has already been mentioned,the book could have as well been written by a Greek; the emotions, the creation of the characters,whether Greek or Italian,the description of the scenery and the powerful narration of combat or execution scenes appeals to the senses,especially for us Greeks who have been narrated similar stories by our grandparents.One cannot avoid feeling their heart beat wildly when the romance of Corelli and Pelagia is unfolded in front of their eyes, one cannot help feeling the agony of those soldiers just before being executed,one can hear the singing of the Italian soldier choir and can sense the smells of the flowers and the cooked food.We feel the agony Pelagia is facing for the fate of Antonio and we cannot avoid feeling terribly disappointed when we realise the unbelievable mistake Corelli made and the tragical twists of fate that prevented these lovers from being united sooner.The music of the mandolin enshrines the whole story and the reader can clearly hear it if they close their eyes and let their senses and sentiments carry them away. However, I cannot help mentioning that I would have liked a different ending,Greeks you see as well as Italians are very sentimental people and like seeing individuals, who have suffered for love or fought for their ideals, being rewarded at the end. The historical references are splendid,one feels like being a fly on the wall overhearing things that had dramatic significance for world history.Carlo is wonderfully depicted and the reader doesn't see a pervert,as Carlo wants to present himself,but a brave soldier,a dedicated lover who will sacrifice his life to protect the person he loves.As a woman,I sympathised with Pelagia and I went through all her emotional ups and downs.As a Greek,I felt very proud that a non-greek could feel and describe in such a profound way events that took place on an island which has gone through a lot in its history. As a music lover,I let myself be captivated by the notes of the mandolin and be absorbed by the enchanting narration. Captain Corelli and his mandolin became one,literally speaking, and will remain as such in the history of English literature and in our hearts. Antonio will play his mandolin for Pelagia for as long as the waves are breaking on the shores of Cephallonia, the island which sheltered their love, and we will be the audience of this wonderful concerto.
on 10 June 2000
When I first started this book, I gave up after two chapters - very unusual for me. Several months later I picked it up again, and I'm very glad I did. Once past the difficult start, I found it completely absorbing, and couln't put it down. The characters are exceptionally well drawn, and the book not only relates the love story between Antonio and Pelagia, but also the story of the effects of the war in and beyond the community. It is a credit to the author that he manages to weave together so many strands of the story, and so many wonderful characters I too found the ending a bit disappointing - but not enough to detract from my enjoyment of this wonderful book. (I'd also like to respond to those who complain that the language is too difficult. Personally I had very few problems with it, but when I do have to look a word up, then I feel that the author has done me a favour. If we were only ever exposed to words we already understood, we would never get past one syllable, if we managed to learn to read at all.) All in all, a wonderful, evocative book, deserving of its place as a firm favourite.