Sunday, October 26, 2008

Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Berniere

I finally finished Captain Corelli's Mandolin for the 1% Well-Read Challenge. One thing you should know about me before you read this review is that historical fiction is probably one of my favorite genres. I particularly enjoy it when an author has done his homework and the historical context and setting for the novel is well-constructed.

This book has everything in it that I love. It has history, it has strong character development, it has great plot, lots of humour and love. Every color of love that exists in the world is in this novel -- paternal, filial, romantic, you name it! The heroes are larger than life and the villians are some of the most vile our planet has ever seen. It's good vs. evil, on a very human level, and it's fabulous!

The story is set in Cephallonia, an island in Greece that is occupied by the Italians, Germans and the British throughout WWII. The history in the book is told in the first person by "eyewitnesses" to the events which makes the copious amount of information both relatable and palatable. Captain Corelli is an Italian officer who billets himself in the home of the main protagonist, Pelagia, who is Greek and lives with her father, Dr. Iannis, the only physician on the island.

Pelagia's mom died of TB when she was very small and her father has raised her to be a critical thinker, an independent with a sharp mind. Captain Corelli's true passion is not war but is music and he is particularly gifted in singing and playing the mandolin. Though Pelagia begins the story hating the Italians, their occupation, and their Captain, her acidity is neutralized through Corelli's charm, humor and passion. She cannot help but love Captain Corelli and neither can the reader. He has integrity, leads through humor, and even though the Italians are occupying the Island, they are respectful, fun-loving and attempt to get along with the native Greeks.

Though this next excerpt is a bit crass, it remains one of the most delightful parts of the book for me:

His battery had a latrine known as 'La Scala' because he had a little opera club that shat together there at the same time every morning, sitting in a row on the wooden plank with their trousers about their ankles. He had two baritones, three tenors, a bass and a counter-tenor who was much mocked on account of havin g to sing all the women's parts, and the idea was that each man should expel either a turd or a fart during the crescendos, when they could not be heard above the singing. In this way the indignity of communal defacation was minimised, and the whole encampment would begin the day humming a rousing tune that they had heard wafting out of the heads.
The story is turned on it's ear when the Germans occupy the island after the Italians surrender to the Allies. The brutality and the betrayals inflicted on the people of the island by both the Germans and by the Greek insurrectionaries over the next decade is gut-wrenching. The author allows us to overcome these atrocities together with the characters we've grown to love and does a great job of painting every shade of moral character in the human condition.

I don't want to give too much away but this story completely enveloped me and I didn't want to put it down. Louis de Bernieres is a master at transporting the reader to another time and circumstance while evoking the raw emotions that are universal to the human race. I loved it. And, Captain Corelli, is an embrace-the-moment, passionate, romantic and funny man who endears himself to you and makes you laugh from his first appearance in the story until his last.

I can't wait to see the movie. Nicholas Cage plays Captain Corelli -- I think he was well-casted for the humour part but, the passionate and romantic part?? -- well, he wouldn't be my version of Captain Corelli...

Next up for me is the English Patient by Michael Ondaatje which I've almost finished.


Judy S. said...

Since you enjoyed this one, Susan, you might also like his Bird without Wings. It's a lot longer though.

Anonymous said...

I stupidly saw the movie before reading the book and now Nicholas Cage IS Captain Corelli for me. I usually read the book before the movie and i am always disapointed by the this time I thought I would do it the other way around. the movie still wasnt as good as the book - movies just dont have the detail and description of books.

Christi Funkhouser said...

Susan, Right now I'm into reading books without detailed descriptions of sex scenes. I'm just tired of it!! Even though this book is romantic, does it leave more to the imagination, the way books used to? I also love historical fiction. I just discovered your blog and I'm going to return often!

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