“Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” is de Bernieres’ fourth novel and is set on the Greek Island of Cephalonia during the Italian and German occupation in World War II. It was one of the most tedious books I’ve read in months, but now that I’ve finished, I appreciate the tiresome bits (not that I wish to duplicate the experience). Each chapter us written in the voice of one of the several dozen characters and range from the Italian Captain Corelli who uses music as a metaphor for everything to Iannis, a doctor and amateur historian who specializes (as Drousola says) in writing words that are a page in length. It is a story of love, war, despair, cruelty, compassion, redemption, miracle, and unthinkable acts being committed in the name of politics.
The story itself is beautifully tragic and I am coming to hate war even more than I thought possible. There are so many disagreeable bits that the peaceful ending seemed to be too little, too late. I realize that de Bernieres merely wrote what his characters had to say, but it got quite tedious to read the diatribes of Mussolini, the interminable sermons by Father Arsenious, the descriptions of the graphic battle scenes by Carlo and Mandras, and especially the history of Cephallonia by Dr. Iannis. Maybe some people can just skim these parts, but it is my lot in life to read every word (heaven helped me get through The Lord of the Rings twice) and now that I’m older and have put my foot down, I cannot read a word of which I am unsure without looking it up. There were actually more words to look up in “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” than in my recently reviewed “Descent of Man” by T.C. Boyle.
It is a good thing that I have read this tale, but I am glad to be passing the book on to another reader so I won’t be tempted to go back and reread it.