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?

24 comments:

  1. I saw the movie, and the only thing I remember from it is a beautiful girl being hung. I'm scarred for life! It was so shocking to see her hanging there when she had been smiling and talking the day before.

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    1. I do NOT remember that from the book!!! Seriously. What were the filmmakers thinking?? Ew.

      If that's any indication of the film, I'm better off not watching it.

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  2. I first heard about this book in connection with the film. Yours is the first review I've ever seen, and you make the book sound very appealing! Last year I read Wanda Newby's account of growing up in Fascist Italy before & during World War II - I learned so much.

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    1. Mussolini was one scary dude. The bits about him in Corelli's Mandolin are satire, but even if part of it is true, it makes my skin crawl.

      The book was really good, now I want to read more about Italy and Greece. I'm thinking about I, Claudius as a read in the near future.

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  3. Haven't seen the movie, but have it on my TBR shelf as well. You've got me more eager to get to it. So true what you said about reading the TBRs and wondering "why" I haven't gotten to them before now!

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    1. I buy these books with such good intentions. . . I guess I just procrastinate!! Working at a library is making it worse. I can't tell you how many books I check out and never read -- some of them multiple times. At least they're free!

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  4. Like you, I started this one once and got sidetracked and went back to it later. I really liked the writing but it frustrated me that the separation of Pelagia and Antonio was largely caused by a misunderstanding that could have been turned around with a quick chat lol. I also agree that Nic Cage was definitely miscast in the film. I saw the movie and then read the book a few years later and there just seemed to be a sort of disconnect between his performance and the way the character was written.

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    1. He's just not my idea of Antonio AT ALL. And I wish there was more back story about Antonio -- so much of his character is unexplained.

      I keep trying to think of another actor who would do a better job, but all I can think of is Javier Bardem, but he's Spanish. Though he is married to Penelope Cruz, so there you are.

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  5. I LOVED this book! Although I've only read it once (10 years ago?), I consider it a favorite and would like to reread. I remember reading Red Dog not too long afterwards, and Birds Without Wings has been on my wish list for years. I have avoided the movie.

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    1. I'm definitely avoiding the movie, though I love Penelope Cruz and I checked to see who played Mandras, it was Christian Bale (!). But Nicolas Cage as Corelli is enough to keep me away. I don't dislike him as an actor, I just think he's completely wrong for the part.

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  6. I've never seen the movie, and now feel that I have to read this book. I also don't know much about WWII outside of Britain, Germany and the USA. Since I am reading up on Italy this year, it does sound excellent on many fronts. I'll have to look for A Bell for Adano as well.

    Wonderful review, and congrats on getting 2 TBRs off the shelf and recategorized as READ!

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    1. Thanks!!! It was so great to realize these books I'd been dragging around all these years were so worth reading.

      Now for the other 183 books on the shelves. . . .le sigh!

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  7. Keep meaning to read this. I saw the author interviewed on a book show and he was completely charming! Nice review.

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    1. Thanks!! It's nice to hear that he seemed like a good sort. I hate it when I books I love are actually written by jerks. It's much nicer to read a book by someone I'd like to meet.

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  8. I have seen the film, the book was much better though. I read the book when it first came out and although I really enjoyed it - I've never read anything else by de Bernieres. I should rectify that.

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    1. Apparently he's written lots of books, but this is the only one I'd ever heard of too! I'll have to check and see if my library has any more of his books.

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  9. I've read the book some time ago and I completely agree with you about the ending: it was...strange. Not appropriate at all. Making you doubt the main hero and his fat, big war-time love. My favorite character in the book was Drosula btw!

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    1. I liked Drosula too, especially how she stood up for Pelagia and little Antonia. She was awesome.

      The ending just didn't seem real to me, too much stretched out. I understand why the author included the whole bit about the earthquake and the aftermath, but maybe it should have ended there. It dragged on for me.

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  10. I'm doing the TBR Pile Challenge and loving it. I read this one last year and really enjoyed it right up to the end as well. Just like you I thought that part was unrealistic.

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    1. I love this challenge!! I just wish I could read faster. I'll have to go back and read your review of Corelli.

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  11. I saw the movie, with Nicolas Cage doing a bad job with an Italian accent. It was bad enough that I never felt an urge to read the book, until reading what you say here.

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    1. I can't imagine him doing accents. I've liked him in some movies, especially Moonstruck, one of my favorites, but I think the movie would ruin the book for me. The book has some wonderful stuff in it, especially about life on a Greek Island. The Italian soldiers seemed pretty nice. Not a pretty portrait of the Germans, however.

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  12. I read this book ten years ago and Pelagia has not left me yet. Although the ending left me angry and with so many questions. I saw the movie and it did not do the book justice.

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    1. I know!! I felt like so much was unanswered. I wanted to know more about Corelli, I wish we'd learned more of his back story.

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