Genre: historical fiction
Length: 436 pages
Setting: the Greek island of Cephallonia, from 1940 to about 1960
Interest: It’s the highest ranked of the BBC’s The Big Read books I hadn’t read (there were only two books in the top 30 I hadn’t read). I made it through the Time Top 100 books (although you’ll see quite a few posted in the future as I go back through some of my old reviews) and needed a new list. This one is British-literature heavy, but still provides some interesting books I might not have read otherwise.
Summary: Dr. Iannis and his daughter, Pelagia, live very happily on Caphallonia. Dr. Iannis tries his best to cure the ills of the villager, while writing a history of the island. Pelagia is in love with the local fisherman. Their lives change when the Italians invade Greece and Dr. Iannis is forced to billet the charming Captain Corelli. They try to make his life miserable, but he overcomes their attempts at hostility. Eventually, Corelli and Pelagia fall in love. Life is surprisingly good until the Germans turn on the Italians, killing most of the soldiers stationed in Greece. Corelli survives a firing squad due to the heroic actions of his friend Carlo. He’s healed by the doctor and smuggled back to Italy. Pelagia adapts a baby left on her doorstep and lives her life believing Corelli died in the war.
Final thoughts: Even though I had a hard time getting into this story (it was over 100 pages before I was truly interested and not just reading because someone said it was good), I really enjoyed it in the end. For one thing, the characters of Corelli, Iannis and Pelagia were so vibrant and I wanted everything to work out for them. The other charming aspect of the book was the strong sense of place in the small, Greek island. You really got the connection between all the members of the village living on the island.
I did feel a bit sorry for Pelagia. She was a pretty girl who was just thinking about getting married when the war hit. The general starvation during the war meant she lost her beauty, and then Corelli never came back, so she moved right into old maidhood. She never really got to live.
The overall style of writing in the book deserves a quick mention. Each chapter was told from a different point of view from the previous chapter. I like the chapters outside of the village the least, although they were important to set up the larger political situation in Greece and Italy. It wasn’t until Corelli was introduced that the story really piqued my interest.
Title comes from: Corelli really wanted to be a mandolin player and he originally became a soldier so he would have lots of time to practice. Too bad a war started and he actually had to fight.
Reading challenges fulfilled: 30/100 in my 100 Book Challenge, a D in my Author Alphabet Soup challenge, and a European country for my Global Reading Challenge
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