Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Captain Corelli's Mandolin : Book Review


I returned to this book as I prepared for my Greek series on my Blog and a joyous return it was!

Captain Corelli's Mandolin follows is the story  Pelagia and those who love her, beginning in World War II, when she and her father, a doctor on the small Greek island of Cephalonia, first get drawn into the war and following her through sixty years of love, life and Loss.

Youthful, spirited and intelligent, Pelagia thinks herself in love with Mandras, an illiterate Greek fisherman who leaves for war. When the island is overtaken a remarkably ineffectual Italian army, Captain Antonio Corelli is billeted to their small house. Corelli, whose response to "Heil, Hitler" was once "Heil, Puccini," is a musician, a talented mandolin player, who quickly establishes a singing group (meeting in the company's latrines) in preference to waging war. 

The captain is everything Madras had not been , sophisticated, erudite and gentle. By the time the wounded Mandras returns, Pelagia and Corelli are in love.

The author vividly depicts the various political movements which play out in Cephalonia across the three score years of the narrative. Through the Italian occupation; the German "cleansing" in which the Germans, nearly defeated in Europe, exact revenge on the Italians who have, with a change of government, withdrawn their support; and the later Communist insurgency in Greece and their opposition by fascist partisans. Always connecting these events to the lives of Pelagia, her father, Mandras, and Corelli, the author with great dexterity depicts the impact of political changes on the lives of ordinary people in the time of war and it’s aftermath.
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The horrors of the German revenge on the Italians reflect the mentality of wartime desperation and contrast with the goodness various characters  have been able to engender on a personal level. With the withdrawal of the Italians and Germans, the horrors of internecine warfare within the Greek community, and the extremes to which partisans, including Mandras, are willing to go are examined in depth.

DeBernieres is adept at contrasting idealistic young love with the mindlessness loss of sense of political passion, the love of the arts and history with the necessities  of political dogma, and one's personal commitments to other individuals with the commitments to ideologies. 

Grittily realism and sentimental romantic love rub shoulders , the novel conveys the absurdities of politics and places them within the context of real life and emotions. The author’s gifted, descriptive style enlivens the present in Greece while also celebrating  the past and all the Culture it represented.

 Not a documentary account, but a beautifully written telling of the chaos of war, the importance of love in all it’s forms and a loving kiss to The Greeks whose resilience in the face of invasion is often forgotten and equally important today as the media storm over political migrants to Greece rages on.

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