Corelli's Mandolin

by Louis De Bernières

Hardcover, 1994




New York : Pantheon Books, 1994.


Fiction. Romance. Historical Fiction. HTML:The acclaimed story of a timeless place that one day wakes up to find itself in the jaws of history: "An exuberant mixture of history and romance, written with a wit that is incandescent" (Los Angeles Times Book Review). The place is the Greek island of Cephallonia, where gods once dabbled in the affairs of men and the local saint periodically rises from his sarcophagus to cure the mad. Then the tide of World War II rolls onto the island's shores in the form of the conquering Italian army. Caught in the occupation are Pelagia, a willful, beautiful young woman, and the two suitors vying for her love: Mandras, a gentle fisherman turned ruthless guerilla, and the charming, mandolin-playing Captain Corelli, a reluctant officer of the Italian garrison on the island. Rich with loyalties and betrayals, and set against a landscape where the factual blends seamlessly with the fantastic, Corelli's Mandolin is a passionate novel as rich in ideas as it is genuinely moving.… (more)

Media reviews

Just a sumptuous read. It made me cry.

User reviews

LibraryThing member lit_chick
2012, AudioGO Ltd, Read by Michael Maloney

“I am not a cynic, but I do know that history is the propaganda of the victors.” (Ch 6)

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a vast, sprawling narrative, the main thread of which focuses on Pelagia and her father Dr Iannis, who live on the beautiful Greek
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island of Cephallonia. Against the backdrop of WWII and the Italian and German occupation of Cephallonia, Pelagia and Captain Corelli, an Italian officer who is a gifted musician, fall deeply in love. Various narrators include an omniscient voice, secret letters, the historical writings of Iannis, and the imagined megalomaniacal ravings of Mussolini. Many of the images of war are graphic; de Bernières himself described this as a novel about "what happens to the little people when megalomaniacs get busy."

In beautiful, poetic prose, de Bernières delivers memorable characters, including Palagia’s goat and her “cat.” Themes include the many forms of love, music, study and literacy, the devastation of war. This is a novel rich in historical description. Truthfully, I found the breadth and depth of it almost too ambitious for a single novel and occasionally found myself losing track in the sheer sprawl of it. (By the mid 1960s, I was beginning to wonder if de Bernières was planning on a history of the world, or whether the conclusion was in sight). And I found the ending, in terms of Palagia and Corelli, stretched believability to the point of convenience.

I read this now because it is in [1001 Books] and because I was curious. While I loved the writing, this one is guardedly recommended for the reasons expressed above. Michael Maloney, on the other hand, is highly, highly recommended. Extraordinary narrator!
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LibraryThing member browner56
To say the least, Corelli’s Mandolin is a very ambitious book. Across its sprawling scope, it can simultaneously be viewed as a love story (several love stories, in fact), a war story, a multi-generational family saga, a work of historical fiction, and a non-so-thinly veiled political diatribe
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against “isms” of all kinds—Nazism, Fascism, Imperialism, Communism. It is also, in alternating measures, a book that is funny, wise, heartbreakingly sad, harrowing, and life-affirming. Finally, it is a celebration of the enduring beauty that can be found in music, whether in the form of operatic arias sung by home-sick soldiers or tremolos played on the mandolin.

The center of de Bernières’ story involves Pelagia, a young Greek woman, and Antonio Corelli, a captain in the Italian Army, who fall in love during the early stages of World War II. Under Mussolini’s orders, the Italian militia has come to occupy much of Greece, including Pelagia’s island home of Cephallonia. This puts the Italians in direct conflict with the Nazi occupying force, but also places Corelli into the home where Pelagia lives with her father, Dr. Iannis, the island’s physician and unofficial historian. Despite the deprivation going on around them—and the fact that she is already betrothed to Mandras, a local fisherman—the affection between Pelagia and Corelli deepens during the relatively idyllic days before reality sets in. Indeed, it is when the war comes in full force to their small corner of the world that these two find out just how star-crossed their love actually is.

I enjoyed reading Corelli’s Mandolin quite a bit and learned a lot of specific history that I had not known before. That said, though, the novel really felt like three distinct works fused together: an initial part involving life on Cephallonia before and shortly after the invasion, which was singularly charming and consumed most of the book; a brief middle part involving the brutality and inhumanity of the war; and another short final segment spanning the island’s post-war period over the subsequent 40 years. Only the first two of these sections worked for me; in fact, the last part felt far too rushed and the way in which the author chose to end the novel was both implausible and a little disappointing. Nevertheless, this is a novel that can be savored on a number of levels and it is one that I have no hesitance in recommending.
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LibraryThing member Meredy
Six-word review: Much more than romantic wartime drama.

Extended review:

Things I loved about this book:

  1. The drama of intertwined lives and how the consequences of one's choices cascade across other people and future generations.

  2. The theme of history rooted in place--the way a sense of place informs
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the lives of those who live in it and links them to their collective past. The residents of Cephallonia (Kephalonia) draw a strong sense of identity from their ties to fabled Ithaca, Odysseus, and the ancient gods of Greece.

  • The idea of roots growing together.

  • The character of Corelli.

  • The narrative scope and depth. The penetration of character. The breadth of characters. The journeys of the imagination into inner lives, including those of known historic figures such as Mussolini.

  • The depiction of characters coping with loss, injustice, and simple dumb error, as everyone must who lives in the world.

  • Using virtually unintelligible old English in dialogue to convey the effect of an educated officer trying to communicate with the inhabitants by speaking ancient Greek.

  • The Anvil Chorus in the latrine.

  • Somewhere in the second hundred pages, I bogged down and nearly gave up. But I was led on by the promise of something fine, and I wasn't disappointed. The ending has something of the same poignancy that I found at the end of A.S. Byatt's Possession, which, after all the breadth and complexity of the plot and the multitudinous characters, was the part that stayed with me: a satisfying payoff for the investment of my time and attention, and a place that we couldn't have arrived at by a shorter route.

    I was bothered by a few little things--little, but perhaps not trivial--including a surprising misquotation of the famous Schubert Lied, "Gretchen am Spinnrade." And the present translation, alas, failed the biceps test on page 17. But rather than enumerating the lapses I wish someone had caught, which I tend to do only with books that tip my balance scale too far toward the don't-like side, I'll share a few of my favorite quotes:

    • [Concerning a young woman named Lulu, daughter of Metaxas, whose family concerns are on a par with matters of state] God knows, one is only young once, but in her case it was once too often. (page 26)

    • Moreover, the captain was possessed of a deep curiosity, so that he could sit with unnerving patience watching Pelagia's hands doing the formal dance of the crochet, until it seemed to her that his eyes were radiating some strange and potent force that would give her fingers the cramps and cause her to lose a stitch. 'I'm wondering,' he said one day, 'what a piece of music would be like if it sounded the way your fingers look.' She was deeply puzzled by this apparently nonsensical remark, and when he said that he did not like a certain tune because it was a particularly vile shade of puce, she surmised either that he had an extra sense or that the wires of his brain were connected amiss. The idea that he was slightly mad left her feeling protective towards him, and it was this that probably eroded her scruples of principle. The unfortunate truth was that, Italian invader or not, he made life more various, rich and strange. (page 207; I recognize this as a description of synesthesia)

    • [Dr Iannis, speaking of Italian invaders] One can only forgive a sin after the sinner has finished committing it, because we cannot allow ourselves to condone it whilst it is still being perpetrated. (page 281)

    • 'Very well,' said Weber, and he closed his eyes and prayed. It was a prayer that had no words, addressed to an apathetic God. (page 324)

    • There was always the sea, the source of Cephallonia's being, but also the source of all its turbid past and the strategic significance which was now a curious memory, the same sea that in future times would cause new invasions of Italians and Germans who would be roasting on the sands together and leaving films of moisturizing oil upon the water, tourists puzzled by the empty and surmising gaze of elderly Greeks in black who passed without acknowledgment or a word. (page 343)

    This was a beautiful read, costing a little bit of effort, perhaps, but worth it.
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    LibraryThing member jusen
    One of those books I loved so much, I refused to go and see the movie :-)
    LibraryThing member BookConcierge
    What a beautifully written book! I wept; I laughed out loud; I was furious; I was anxious and worried; I gasped in horror; I smiled secret smiles; I rejoiced; I LOVED. All the characters, even the minor ones, come to life. I did think a few chapters could have been edited, as they didn't serve the
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    plot (but DID provide background history of WW II), and I found the ending unsatisfactory. But still, after borrowing it from the library I RAN out and bought it - High praise indeed.

    I read it first in April 2001, and then recommended it to one of my book clubs and re-read it in Oct 2001.

    BTW - The movie was absolutely horrible. Forget the movie! READ the book!
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    LibraryThing member capung
    And another thing. Love is temporary madness, it erupts like volcanos and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have soentwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not
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    breathlessness, it is not excitement it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion, it is not the desider 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. 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 fortunte accident. Your other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two. But sometimes the petals fall away and the roots have not entwined. Imagine giving up your home and your people, only to discover after six months, a year, three years, that the trees have had no rotts and have fallen over. Imagine the desolation. Imagine the imprisonment."
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    LibraryThing member flissp
    everyone should read this - a completely different perspective on WWII as well as a sympathetic love story. sooo much better than the film (which completely misses the point)
    LibraryThing member mausergem
    You are invited to the Greek island of Cephallonia. You will find some lovely characters here. Experience their lives from up close. See them face up to the Italians the Nazi Germans and local communists. They will survive all the trials and also have a smile on their face.

    A truly remarkable book.
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    It makes the war a bit less cruel. It has humor, romance and grief. A must read.
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    LibraryThing member Philogos
    I started this book in about 1997 and gave up in disgust after about chapter 3 but had always promised myself that I'd give it another crack of the whip at some point. I've now finished it and other reviewers are right that it picks up once the story gets going.

    The book has some interesting things
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    to say about life in a Greek village - idyllic - and the horrors of war - horrific - but the prose was a touch overdone for me. De Bernieres reminds me of what I dislike about Dickens. All that hyperbole can't be good for one.

    Also, he cheats. In the end, (spoiler alert) the explanation for Corelli's long term absence is not convincing. What? He'd love a woman less if she'd been raped? And no-one told him about the fact that the baby had been dumped on the doorstep? Come on!
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    LibraryThing member MickyFine
    Largely a WWII novel set on the Greek island of Cephalonia during the occupation by the Italians told from a wide variety of perspectives but largely orbiting the lives of Pelagia, a local girl, and the charming Italian Captain Antonio Corelli who comes to the island as part of the occupying
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    forces. I picked up this novel after seeing the film as amidst the terrible accents and overstrung moments of the adaptation I saw the great narrative possibilities of the source material. And while it took some getting into, the novel does deliver. Getting through the initial chapters which are densely written and filled with five dollar words there is a beautiful narrative of life on a small, old island which is completely shattered by war and modernity. Worth picking up if you like historical fiction set during WWII or liked the film and wished for a version without Nicholas Cage's abominable Italian accent.
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    LibraryThing member jhedlund
    I thought this was one of the best books I ever read until the last 100 pages. Then it felt like the author just ran out of steam and tried to quickly rush through and tie everything up, covering many years in the process. It just didn't work given the beauty and complexity of the story up to that
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    point. If not for that, I would have given it five stars easily.
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    LibraryThing member liofa
    I thought this book was terrible. I had to be really stuck to force myself to finish it.

    How can I put it? The whole thing seemed to me as if it had been carved out of a turnip with a blunt spoon... The characters were sketchy charicatures, not a cliché missing, even the d*mn island was flat. The
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    historic war parts were interesting, but we could have got as much on internet in about 20 minutes.

    I found the artificially hobbled, cobbled English a real strain. While on a remote tramp once I developed bad toothache and for hours suffered jarring pain each time my foot struck the ground. That's how I felt while reading this.

    The book as a whole was lopsided in the extreme. I suspect the "mud & blood in Albania" part at the beginning was some old stuff found at the back of a drawer and hastily recycled.

    On the contrary - and as other people have said - I found the end seemed to have been dashed off just anyhow and almost as if the writer was flicking a gob of, well, mud in the reader's eye for having struggled so far. It's not so much that the end was not romantic (real life is often lame, flat and exasperatingly unromantic), rather that the almost boorish attitude of the main character could have the effect of whipping backwards and erasing the whole story, for who wants to admit that they could build their life around such an unfeeling person?
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    LibraryThing member CatrionaOlding3
    Beautiful description of love, tragic story, really irritating ending.
    LibraryThing member Griff
    Advice I was given prior to reading this book - "Don't get discouraged by the first 100 pages. Be patient, read beyond that and you will be rewarded." Excellent advice. A beautiful story that takes place in a harsh setting. Like many of De Bernieres' books - wild, sweeping, irreverent. I recommend
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    it highly.
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    LibraryThing member lindaspangler
    moving story of greek island in WW2. wonderful characters, well written
    LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
    I find it a lot harder to explain it when I love a book then when I hate it--which makes this a hard review to write. Obviously, looking through others' ratings and reviews, not everyone loves this book. I suspect in some cases, it's because despite expectations the book might lead you to, you're
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    not going to get the conventional romance. Other reviewers I read found it "tedious"--and it is a long, discursive book studded with chapters of letters, diary, interior monologue among the mostly omniscient third-person narrative. I found that part of the book's charm, and the story kept my interest throughout because of its exuberance, it's wonderfully quirky characters, its sense of humor, the often gorgeous, quotable prose, the way it transported me to another place and time--and yes, its romance.
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    LibraryThing member Rachcampb
    Utterly brilliant. Made me laugh, made me cry.
    LibraryThing member MayaP
    When I was living in Cuba, books in English were a precious commodity amongst the expat community. You read them, you passed them on - when you went home, you left them behind for those who would come after you. An American artist - one of many that passed through our lives - left me her doggy,
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    much-read copy of Captain Corelli's Mandolin, exhorting me to read it; it was `incredible, unbelievable, the greatest book she'd ever read'. I had three attempts at it but never made it past page 30. It found it much too wordy, overblown, overwritten, annoying.

    Two years later and I saw it again, the same edition with the blue and cream cover, half-price in WH Smiths at Manchester Piccadilly station. I was off to a friend's for the weekend and bought it to read on the train. I got about forty pages in before I abandoned it again. I left that copy with my friend, who's never managed to get through it either.

    A few more years passed and I saw it in a jumble sale, the spine unbroken, apparently unread. It sat on my shelf until a couple of weeks ago when I heard Louis de Bernieres on Midweek, with Libby Purvis and my thoughts strayed to my still un-read copy. This time I was determined, whatever it took, to see it through to the bitter end.

    I still struggled through the first chapters; they are overwritten; tediously wordy - never use one word where you can cram in a paragraph of adverbs.

    Everything changes on page 57. Carlo is the best of this novel. From the moment he enters the story with his heartbreaking, impossible love for Francesco, it's like calming, fragrant oils have been poured on the story's choppy waters; the style settles and a plot suddenly emerges.

    Corelli is a magnificent creation; the Italians in general lift the thing and send it spinning like a master pizza maker with his dough. For the entire central section of the book, I was enthralled (though I have to add, I thought Mandras was a cruelly mistreated character, Pelagia was a cow where he was concerned. My heart truly bled for him and his fate).

    You could have cut the entire last third; Once Corelli leaves and the Germans take over, it's a picture left out in the rain; all the colour and life drained away and - I know it's describing a dire time of cruelty and hardship but that's not why it falls down here, I honestly think the author lost interest once his beloved Italians were out of the picture. The rest is just a downwards roll to the finale. It could all have been broken down to a chapter or two and the book would have been greatly enhanced by that because it seems to me that LdB had pretty much lost the will to live by then.

    And then we reach the ending which was pants. Such a disappointment; improbable, out of character in my opinion. A huge anticlimax.

    To summarise, it's a book of three parts; the beginning is annoyingly wordy, the ending disappointing and dull. Well worth the trouble of reading for the middle, which is joyous, beautiful, wonderful.

    In short, nowhere near as bad as I'd feared, but nowhere near as good as it had the potential to be.
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    LibraryThing member VictoriaNH
    This book really shows how war makes some people do horrible things while other people become noble. After a somewhat slow start the book becomes a real page turner. It has love, sorrow, horror and humanity. Recommended.
    LibraryThing member Lukerik
    What a fantastic story! So many funny scenes I can't mention them all, but I think the stand out moment for me was Captain Corelli's erection. I was hooked from the first scene; I temporarily lost my hearing a few years ago and when it came back it was just as Stamatis describes it: "My head feels
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    empty... it feels as though my whole head has filled up with water...".

    I particularly enjoyed the amount of time that passes during the narrative. Don't quite know why but I've always liked that kind of thing. That jump cut in 2001 gets me right here every time.
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    LibraryThing member jpsnow
    The writing is superb. The overall story is masterful, as are so many vignettes within. The plot covers the lives of the main characters over 60 years, with just the right amount spent on each period.Read this and you'll think you lived the 19th century on a small island in Greece.
    LibraryThing member saliero
    Highly commercial best seller. I love it!
    LibraryThing member Fluffyblue
    I loved this book so much. It is one of my favourites. Whoever said that you should persevere with it was absolutely spot on. After the first 100 pages you start falling in love with the characters.

    I visited Kefalonia - I had read some of the book before I went, and read the rest on my return. I
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    have to say that some of the descriptions of the characters were very accurate portrails of the Kefalonians, friendly, slightly made, eccentric, warm etc.

    This is a book I will read again and again...
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    LibraryThing member zsms
    Not bad, not great. Neither the characters nor the writing really grabbed me, but it was fairly well constructed and written.
    LibraryThing member bookheaven
    Excellent book!! One of my favorites. It starts out slow so perservere because it once it gets going you will be hooked! I heard the movie didn't do it justice.


    Local notes

    Signed and dated in year of publication by author.
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