Many, many years ago my friend Kathleen handed me a copy of Corelli's Mandolin and told me I had to read it. It's a favourite of many friends of ours and it's been sitting on my shelf for probably close to a decade (wow that's frightening to admit). I don't know what made me pick it up a couple weeks ago when I was on my way into the hospital to get a post-surgery check up, but I'm glad I did. It's a lovely, flawed, novel.
At first, it was hard for me to get into the narrative. Louis de Bernières has an interesting writing style. It's dense and worthy of your concentrated attention but it's also whimsical and a little magical (reminding me of Allende and Garcia Marquez). Interspersed with the stories of two of the main characters, father and daughter Iannis and Pelagia, are stories of the Italian dictator, Greece rebels, Italian soldiers (including Antonio Corelli of the aforementioned mandolin), and various other people. It all comes together to create a rich and layered book that presented one of the most gruesome, terrifying portraits of war I've ever read. The scenes where Francesco (an Italian soldier) finds himself knee-deep in the fighting were as deeply affecting as Saving Private Ryan was when I watched it for the first time all those years ago.
The love story between Corelli, an Italian invader of the Greek island where Pelagia and her father live, is complicated by her previous relationship to a foolish, troubled boy named Mandras. War also divides them. The impossibility of the situation heightens their emotions but the impossibility of the situation refuses to abait, especially when both Italy and Germany are found to be on losing sides of the war. De Bernières plums the depths of human nature as it relates to society in this novel. It's always up for discussion, whether it's men forced to obey the orders of war or of humanity; for women forced into situations because of their gender; for the pressures that social justice sets upon a person, the larger themes to the novel go on and on. And like many novels that explore, these larger philosophical discussions are set against the very real situation of human suffering. Rape, murder, theivery, you name it, people do awful things to one another, but at the same time it's the idea of love that keeps the idea that there's a reward to life, even if it takes years to realize.
The end of the novel sort of fell down for me. To discuss it in too much detail would spoil the entire novel, so I'll just say that it was flat and somewhat cliched, tired and a little bit implausible. Yet, the strength of this book for me was the gruesome, realistic and utterly terrifying sections about the men suffering through the harrowing days of combat. My heart ached for them.
READING CHALLENGES: 1001 Books baby!