"A room without books is like a body without a soul." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a novel I have been urged to read by my Aunty for years, but I never got round to it because it didn’t sound like my sort of book. I was very wrong! 

Set on the small Greek island of Cephalonia during World War 2, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is both a romance story and a bitter tale of the devastating consequences of war on a small community. Studying the effects of such destruction on a tiny island gives the novel the emotional and personal touch that makes this book so special. 

The story follows Dr. Iannis and his daughter Pelagia over a long period of time, following their lives both during and after the war. Pelagia becomes betrothed to the handsome young fisherman Mandras, but he leaves the island to fight and Pelagia’s letters to him go unanswered; fearing the worst, she finds herself instead falling for the Italian captain stationed on Cephalonia, a mandolin player named Antonio Corelli...

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a brutal, heartbreaking and honest story, but at the same time it manages to be sweet and poignant. Because the plot spans such a long time, the premise doesn’t reveal much about the events to come; it’s just the very beginning of this tragic yet beautiful story. The plot is enticing, albeit a little slow in parts - particularly when history-enthusiast Doctor Iannis details a lot of the island’s past. However there are also really lovely, almost anecdotal chapters (such as ‘Snails’) which are heart-warming as well as sweetly saddening since the characters we have grown to care so much about are all trying their best to remain positive, strong, and happy together despite meagre possessions and devastating circumstances.

The writing is beautiful and descriptive, seamlessly incorporating subtle humour. The characters are carefully crafted and wonderfully real. Mandras was my favourite, though I can’t say too much here about why this is; he is complex and fascinating and represents how damaging war can be on a person, as well as the theme of villainy and heroism. Pelagia is a strong, fiery woman who questions the role of the female in Greek society with her yearning wish to become a doctor; de Bernières addresses other controversies such as homosexuality in the military through the character of Carlos, adding multiple layers to this already awe-inspiring novel.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin blew me away: it is bitter, heart-warming, sad and romantic, with an addictive plot, real characters and gorgeous writing. Don’t wait like I did - just read it! 

Rating: 9/10

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