It is 1941 and 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, but as a conscientious but far from fanatical soldier, whose main aim is to have a peaceful war, he proves in time to be civilized, humorous—and a consummate musician.
When the local doctor’s daughter’s letters to her fiancé—a member of the underground—go unanswered, the working of the eternal triangle seems inevitable. But can this fragile love survive as a war of bestial savagery gets closer and the lines are drawn between invader and defender?
Author: Louis de Bernieres
I picked up this book because it contains one of my favorite quotes. In fact, I even chose it as a reading at my wedding (with a few omissions).
Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion, it is not the desire to mate every second minute of the day, it is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every cranny of your body. No, don’t blush, I am telling you some truths. That is just being “in love”, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.
I had high hopes that the rest of the book would contain passages as beautiful as this one, and I was not disappointed. Louis de Bernieres is a language artist. There is a chapter titled, “How like a Woman is a Mandolin,” and it is striking. I encourage you to find it and read it. The characters are also beautiful, especially Carlo, a closeted but passionate gay soldier who leads a full but tragic life in distant, dutiful service to those he loves.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a World War II novel, but it is atypical in that it’s set in Cephalonia, Greece, during its Italian occupation. It is less about Jewish persecution and concentration camps, and more about how war disrupts and changes lives, no matter who they are or where they live. However, I must say that I’m disappointed that the back cover description of this book focuses on Captain Corelli. The book is really not about him, or about men. The book is really about Pelagia. It is told from a feminine perspective about a strong, smart woman who is equal parts romantic and feminist.
It took me a long time to finish this book, but that was because the language and subject matter is so dense. It reads a lot like a classic novel, in fact. I’ll also add that the last 150 pages or so moved much more quickly than the first 350. Really, it was a beautiful reading experience. It may be interesting to let this one ruminate and re-read in a year or so to see what more I get out of it.