Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernières



Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is set in the early days of the second world war, before Benito Mussolini invaded Greece. Dr Iannis practices medicine on the island of Cephalonia, accompanied by his daughter, Pelagia, to whom he imparts much of his healing art. Even when the Italians do invade, life isn’t so bad—at first anyway. The officer in command of the Italian garrison is the cultured Captain Antonio Corelli, who responds to a Nazi greeting of “Heil Hitler” with his own “Heil Puccini”, and whose most precious possession is his mandolin. It isn’t long before Corelli and Pelagia are involved in a heated affair–despite her engagement to a young fisherman, Mandras, who has gone off to join Greek partisans. Love is complicated enough in wartime, even when the lovers are on the same side. And for Corelli and Pelagia, it becomes increasingly difficult to negotiate the minefield of allegiances, both personal and political, as all around them atrocities mount, former friends become enemies and the ugliness of war infects everyone it touches.

My Thoughts

To be honest, I am not a huge fan of historical fiction. Nor am I a fan of war fiction, of any kind. Put the two together, and I’m very disinclined to read about it.

All that said, I did not dislike Captian Corelli’s Mandolin, though I can’t say definitively that I liked it, either. There are entertaining moments, graphic moments, and absolutely desperate moments. I can certainly appreciate it for what it is – a graphic, and honest, depiction of what World War II was like for the Greeks. Which is absolutely unpleasant. To say the least.

As we go through the history of the vast cast of characters, we’re privy to so much more than can be said using only one point of view. As the POV jumps about, it can get mildly confusing, but it’s definitely worth it. Without that, we wouldn’t know that Carlo is probably the most loving and empathetic man in the Italian military. He’s also the most cynical, and the most desperate to expose the military for what it is – fighting on the wrong side, for no reason other than the head of state wants absolute power and safety, the soldiers be damned.

Carlo finds a sense of familial belonging with the military, as anyone would want to. However, he does not confuse that with loyalty, and is very clear (at least in his own mind) about whom he trusts, and why he does what he does. Carlo looks up to, and admires, many of his colleagues. He’s the first to come to their defense. Carlo is loving, almost to a fault. Carlo and the Captain are very entertaining to see together. I adored their interactions. Carlo loved the Captain for who he was, and that’s extremely important to Carlo. (Disclaimer, Carlo was my favourite character, and his story breaks my bloody heart.)

Love is a theme that permeates throughout the entire book – we see it in so many forms. The lustful desire between Pelagia and Mandras; the fatherly devotion between Dr. Iannis and his daughter Pelagia; and, the romantic love between Pelagia and Captain Antonio Corelli. Love is messy, love is not easy, but, certain types of love are always unconditional. These are important things that are brought to light and discussed throughout the book.

Pelagia, as the center of most of these affections, is a strong woman who knows herself very well. She swears like a sailor (which I’m so happy about), she can defend herself, and she’s forward thinking and very outspoken. She has her own ideas, her own opinions, and she’s more than willing to continue educating herself on things she’s unclear about. Pelagia was a delight to get to know – I adore her, even when she’s pushy and inherently stubborn. She’s absolutely fantastic.

I also enjoy the interactions between the Doctor and the Captain. The Doctor goes out of his way to make the Captain miserable – he’s quite displeased with the Italian invasion of Greece for the Axis Powers – and he’s certainly not going to sit down and take it lightly. These interactions are quite entertaining, and honestly, I haven’t had a good-natured laugh like that in a really long time. Watching the Captain get flustered and make a fool of himself has its moments of hilarity. To be fair, my heart went out to him a few times, as learning a new language and trying to interact with unknown individuals is stressful and quite tricky. It’s embarrassing to flounder about (trust me, I’ve been there, done that too many damn times to count).

While the book does not skimp on the dramatics and the graphic depictions of death and violence, the overall tone is more light-hearted and quite entertaining. There’s a sense of sentimentality that comes with reading historical fiction that I just don’t appreciate yet. Maybe that’s why I’m disinclined to read books of this nature more often. Maybe it’s just simply not to my tastes.

Whatever the reason, I know that I just simply do not fully appreciate what this book has to offer – I didn’t mind it, I understand what it’s getting at, but I can’t say I greatly enjoyed it. That said, those moments of hilarity and entertainment certainly made this book worth reading.


~ by Aubrey Smith on May 18, 2016.

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