Corelli's Mandolin
Louis de Bernieres
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Get Louis de Bernieres' *Corelli's Mandolin* delivered to your door! Corelli's Mandolin
Louis de Bernieres
Vintage International
437 pages
August 1995
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Imbued with a mythic weight and a delightful tragicomic lightness, Louis de Bernieres' Corelli's Mandolin bursts with tenderness and wit. This is the story of a tiny Greek island, occupied by the Italian army and subsequently forgotten, for a time, while the attention of opposing powers was focused on larger theaters during World War II. This is the story of a tightly-knit community, with the attendant cast of quirky characters, refusing to be dominated by its "conquerors." This is the story of love found, betrayed, lost, and at long last found again.

Curled Up With a Good BookA country doctor without a formal degree, Dr. Iannis has tried to raise his motherless daughter, Pelagia, as best he could. With a medical knowledge acquired over years of far-flung sea travel, Dr. Iannis is nonetheless respected in his small village on the tiny island of Cephallonia. A gruff but lovable man, he has raised his daughter to become an intelligent and beautiful young woman. The doctor and his cronies listen to British radio reports of a world-altering conflict driven by two madmen, Hitler and Il Duce. While the older men wait for war to wash up on their shores, Pelagia falls into her first love with a handsome local fisherman, Mandras.

The doctor, resigning himself to the fact that he will think no one worthy of his daughter, acquiesces when Mandras asks for Pelagia's hands. But the young fisherman himself feels less than worthy of his prospective bride. Mandras asks Pelagia to wait to marry him until after he has returned from fighting in the Greek army against the encroaching Italians. Pelagia reluctantly agrees, and over the ensuing months writes Mandras letter upon letter. Never receiving a reply, she feels her love for him waning and begins to suspect he will never return. The prospect brings an unwelcome sense of guilty relief.

The Italians take over the island, and Dr. Iannis and Pelagia find themselves billeting Antonio Corelli, a mandolin player who happens to be a captain in the Italian army. Irreverent, exuberant and handsome, Captain Corelli wins the heart of Pelagia without her even realizing it. The Italians on Cephallonia, abandoned to their own devices by their generals, nearly achieve acceptance into the communities they purportedly "hold," but they are still the enemy. The captain and Pelagia do what they can to keep the love everyone can see a secret.

Inevitably, the harsh realities of war rain down with brutal force upon the island. The incompetencies and indecisions of the Italian commanders sentence their troops in Greece to death at the hands of their former allies, the Germans. Death and sorrow smother the brief happiness Pelagia has known with her Italian soldier, atrocity replacing beauty on tiny Cephallonia. Fate holds in store bitter loss for the young Greek woman whose beauty has faded with the deprivations of war. With all of the unlikely truth of an ancient Greek myth, Pelagia's wounds are reopened and salted. Her pain will be rewarded, though, in the end, in a bittersweet reunion whose intensity of renewed loss could wring tears from the eyes of even the most stubborn cynic.

Corelli's Mandolin is not in the least a simple love story. It is a portrait of a fiercely proud and independent little community rebelling in what small ways it can. It is a snapshot of the horrors endured by the men in combat during the Second World War. It is a damning commentary on the grandiose lack of sense among the leaders who would mold the world to fit their petty desires. It is a witty, charming, intelligent tale that possesses the reader to finish without stopping. It is a tragic story of star-crossed lovers given one more chance at happiness after a lifetime of loss, and it is worth every moment you spend turning its pages.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Sharon Schulz-Elsing, 1995

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