History: Written and published in 1993.
Plot: 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. A 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.
Review: I listened to this book. 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. I thought it explored some good themes such as morality in the face of horrendous decisions, what love is all about and the extremes of human nature.
Opening Line: “Dr. Iannis had enjoyed a satisfactory day in which none of his patients had died or got any worse.”
Closing Line: “She had a deeply serious expression on her face as she immersed herself in the newspaper and with elegant fingers tried to prevent the pages from flapping in the breeze.”
Quotes: “Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is.”