Corelli's Mandolin

by Louis De Bernières

Hardcover, 1994

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Pantheon Books, 1994.

Description

A tragicomedy on a Greek island during World War II. The hero is Antonio Corelli, a mandolin-playing captain of the occupying Italian army, the heroine is Pelagia Iannis, daughter of a local doctor, who is engaged to a Greek resistance leader, Corelli's enemy. The novel follows their adventures as Italy switches sides, the Germans invade and the war turns into a free for all. By the author of The troublesome offspring of Cardinal Guzman.

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 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!
… (more)
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 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.
… (more)
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 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.

  3. The idea of roots growing together.

  4. The character of Corelli.

  5. 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.

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

  7. 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.

  8. 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.… (more)
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 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!
… (more)
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 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?
… (more)
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 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.… (more)
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 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!
… (more)
LibraryThing member lindaspangler
moving story of greek island in WW2. wonderful characters, well written
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 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.
… (more)
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. It makes the war a bit less cruel. It has humor, romance and grief. A must read.… (more)
LibraryThing member EadieB
This was a very touching story that was a mixture of romance and history and I enjoyed it very much. The characters are the type that will stay with you for a long time. I thought it was very well written and I learned a lot of Mussolini and World War II. It's a type of book that you hate for it to end. I would recommend to anyone who enjoys love stories and history.… (more)
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 point. If not for that, I would have given it five stars easily.… (more)
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 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 it highly.
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 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 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.… (more)
LibraryThing member CatrionaOlding3
Beautiful description of love, tragic story, really irritating ending.
LibraryThing member Rachcampb
Utterly brilliant. Made me laugh, made me cry.
LibraryThing member iammbb
With a long wind up, De Bernieres provides a window into an obscure corner of World War II. While De Bernieres does a fair job on an intellectual, introductory level, there is a remove to his characterizations which never allows the reader to feel quite the level of attachment to the cast of his novel as one might wish. The end of the novel feels rushed and flat, especially when compared with the detail-laden, almost overdrawn beginning. It's as if the novelist tired of them or at the very least ran out of time. All the same, due to my lack of knowledge regarding virtually all of this history, I did find many redeeming qualities and am glad that I took the time to read it. I enjoyed getting to know all the main characters as individuals whom I might have like to have known in real life.… (more)
LibraryThing member pilgrimess
I absolutely adored this book, and it's rare that I say that. It took me a long time to get into it though - it took me a year to read the first 100 pages and only a week and a half to read the last 300. And for a while I was considering giving it only four stars for that reason, but when I finished it I realised what an incredible journey reading the book had been for me and I had to give it five.

I learnt so much about the war in Greece from this wonderful novel, and the characters were so intense and so real that the whole story just came alive for me. This book is many things: a history, a love story, an expose on Nazi Germany, a tale of Mediterranean life, a story about the barbarity of war and how it changes people. And unlike some books where the focus is so much on the romance that one becomes impatient weaving through subplots, I found that I loved reading about every minor character as much as I loved Antonio and Pelagia. Every word of this book seemed lovingly and honestly crafted; every character was like a friend you'd never tire of seeing. For those who struggled through the first quarter of the book like I did, persevere - you won't be disappointed. Louis de Bernieres has a real gift.
… (more)
LibraryThing member smithlaj
The book is beautiful. The movie is an abomination. But isn't that usually the case?
LibraryThing member Alirob
Very good, but slow to get going; you need to persevere with 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 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...
… (more)
LibraryThing member BeeQuiet
Beautifully written book, made me feel like crying and laughing at various points. A real masterpiece.

Language

Local notes

Signed and dated in year of publication by author.
non-circulating
Page: 0.3127 seconds