Saturday, March 16, 2013
Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
I signed up for the TBR Pile Challenge again this year because I'm always trying to read those neglected books on my shelves. The best thing about it is that I find great books and say to myself, "why, why, WHY did I wait so long to read this???" Which, theoretically, could be the worst thing about it -- I end up kicking myself for not reading them sooner. But I suppose I should just be grateful that I finally did.
Corelli's Mandolin is just such a book. This was very popular about ten years ago, and it's #19 of the top 100 books in the BBC's Big Read survey. I bought my copy about 2002, while I was still living in Nebraska. (It's pretty easy for me to remember how long I've had books -- I just remember where I was living when I bought them. Since I move almost every three years, I can usually guess pretty accurately). It was one of the selections for my book group, and I started it and liked it, but something happened and I never got very far. I don't know why I never finished it.
Before I digress, here's the basic setup. Set in the early years of WWII on the Greek island of Cephalonia, this is the story of Dr. Iannis and his beautiful daughter Pelagia, and their experiences during and after the war, and of Antonio Corelli, and Italian officer who is billeted in their home after the Axis forces invade. However, it's much more than that. It's told in multiple viewpoints, so we get the glimpses into the experiences of Greek partisans, Italian soldiers, and even Mussolini himself. The book is both comic, tragic, and satirical, and explores the horrors of the war and its aftermath, and about human nature.
I really enjoyed this. I'd never read anything by de Bernieres, and I liked his writing style. I liked reading about the different characters and the shifting viewpoints, because there's so much going on in a war. I do wish there was more background on Corelli's character, and I was a bit disappointed in the ending (highlight if you want to read more): I just thought having Corelli magically reappear more than thirty years later was unrealistic -- if he'd really loved Pelagia, he probably would have found out that she wasn't married -- it seemed pretty lame. Also, what happened to him and how did he survive the rest of the war? There's so much that was unexplained, I felt like de Bernieres got tired of his character and didn't know what to do with him.
Last year, one of my favorite reads from the 2012 TBR Challenge was A Bell For Adano, which is about the American occupation of a small Italian town. I did see parallels with Corelli's Mandolin. Most of what I know about World War II is about Germany, England or America -- I know next to nothing about the war in other countries. Before Adano I knew nothing about the war in Italy, and before this book, nothing about the war in Greece. I'm still fascinated by World War II -- I suppose one could study it for an entire lifetime and still not know everything about it. I suppose that's why it's such a popular subject. I don't think there's any other war that has had more books published about it, except maybe the American Civil War.
I never saw the movie adaptation of Corelli's Mandolin, and I probably never will. I'll just say I tried very hard not to imagine Nicolas Cage in the lead role, because having read it, I think he was horribly miscast, though I'm sure Penelope Cruz was probably excellent as Pelagia. (And how do you pronounce that name anyway??)
Well. I'm pleased to have completed another book from my TBR list. Two down, ten to go! Is anyone else signed up for the TBR Pile Challenge? How are you doing? And has anyone seen the movie version of Corelli's Mandolin? What did you think?