Unusually this book was recommended to me by both my Mum and my Dad. They tend to have very different tastes in literature so I suppose I initially read this out of curiosity. It was the first De Bernières book I’d read and I had no expectations at all. I began reading it whilst living abroad, hanging out in cafes, being very continental, bohemian etc. This was a mistake…
At one point I started crying in a café. Another time my friends turned up halfway through the last chapter. I couldn’t wait to get home to read it, so after a fun night with my friends, I sat in a shop doorway and read the last few pages by the light of the lampposts. Very few books have stayed with me as much as this one. Ok, so it’s a bit schmaltzy and not entirely historically accurate, but it’s a good story so who cares.
Corelli is an Italian Captain, sent to Kefalonia during WW2 with the occupying forces. He is met with resistance from the locals (perfectly understandable) until his charm and charisma win them over (not too believable, but I’ll let it slide). Actually, he is charming. I’d hang out with him.
Corelli is not a conscientious soldier. He wants, as much as possible, to have a peaceful war. He doesn’t care about the Nazis or Hitler and would much rather discuss Puccini than politics. His music is his first passion. Then he meets Pelagia, a local girl who is engaged to a member of the resistance. So far so Romeo and Juliet / love across the divide!
It’s essentially a love story, but there’s different forms of love at work here. The love between Dr Iannis and his daughter Pelagia, the love between Corelli and Pelagia, Carlo’s love for Corelli, and the love and support of the community for each other.
De Bernières has a great imagination for character creation. All of his characters are colourful and intriguing. There’s none of his familiar magical realism here but it’s not needed. This is a story about the impact of war on ordinary people. These are the stories you’ll never find in the history books, yet the ones which truly bring home the horror and loss suffered.
I’ve read this book twice now (so far) and each time, I’ve laughed and cried at the same parts and loved the characters more each time. Do yourself a favour and read it. In fact, do yourself two favours: read the book and avoid the film. Nicholas Cage? What were they thinking?!
“When you fall in love, it is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake, and then it subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots are become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the desire to mate every second of the day. It is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every part of your body. No… don’t blush. I am telling you some truths. For that is just being in love; which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over, when being in love has burned away. Doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? But it is!”
If you like a good wartime romance you might like Guernica
If you like a long-drawn out wartime romance you might like A Town Like Alice
If you like reading about life under occupation you might like The Moon Is Down