Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières
Ever since I went to Zante in 2014 I have been obsessed with all things Greek – the beauty, the culture, the people, all of it.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is one of those books that appears on every ‘top 100 books to read before you die’ lists. My mother attempted to read it once on holiday but was not keen. We have quite similar reading tastes so I was hesitant but I thought would could go wrong – a love story during the Second World War set in Cephallonia?
I will ignore the first half of the book as in my opinion not a lot happened. Captain Antonio Corelli is posted to Cephallonia as part of the occupying forces. He is young, handsome and doesn’t want to be a part of the war. He is more concerned with becoming a musician as he is a talented mandolin player. He is civil to the island’s inhabitants as well as the Germans who are also occupying the island. He strikes up a close friendship with Doctor Iannis and his young daughter Pelagia who is intends to marry a young fisherman who has gone off to fight in the war. Eventually the young Italian and Pelagia fall in love and she assumes with her fiancée Mandras has been killed.
As the war steps up a gear and food becomes scarcer on the island, the Germans and the Italians soon battle each other. Antonio is shot by his German friend and Doctor Iannis fights to keep him alive. To mend his ribs the doctor uses the Italian’s beloved mandolin. Once healthy, Antonio is posted back to Italy. In the most heart wrenching part of the book, Pelagia weeps as he sails away, never knowing if she will see him again. He leaves his mandolin with her so she is assured he will return.
But things get worse before they get better. The inhabitants practically starve to death due to the lack of food and then Mandras returns much to Pelagia’s horror. Brainwashed by the war Mandras tries to rape and kill Pelagia but she’s too quick for him and shoots him. And then catastrophe after catastrophe occurs – an earthquake happens which kills Iannis, Peagia’s home is destroyed and she hears no word from Antonio. But as though a sign from God, Pelagia finds a baby on her doorstep which she brings up as her own and names Antonia.
As the years pass she assumes Antonio has died but often feels his presence and at times convinces herself she has seen him. Antonia grows up, marries a lawyer and has a son. Their son, now a teenager is a keen mandolin player and by chance bumps into Antonio Corelli. Pelagia shocked by his appearance and berates him for not letting her know he was alive all this time. However Corelli saw her many years ago with baby Antonia and assumed she has married. The book ends with them riding off into the sunset together and the reader is left to make their own mind up as to whether they see out the rest of their days together.
If I am honest I nearly gave up half way through. I was expecting a love story and the first half is very politically charged with references to many countries stance on the Second World War but in the second half it really kicked into gear and was more about the love story between Antonio and Pelagia. I needed to know so badly if they ended up together that I cheated and flicked to the end to see what happened – something I never do! Based on the second half I couldn’t out it down and I would highly recommend it. Oh and it made me really want to go back to Zante.