Thursday, March 22, 2012

Contemporary Series, Part 4: Captain Corelli's Mandolin

Ok, it's time for me to sit down and write about a specific book again.  I have been unsure what to do with this next one for a long time now.  I can be so strict with my definition of a "Classic" that I wasn't sure if I could justify including this one.  But I just recently recommended it to a friend yet again, and I decided I must include it on my blog.  It is a wonderful and well-written story, and since I'm the sole writer of this blog, I'm going to stop being quite so strict!

I'm attaching this book to my Contemporary Series, which I started over a year ago.  It is called Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres (1994). I still find this series rather intimidating, as I recognize that I may be stepping out on a limb since it is too early for a group of literary scholars to agree with me in this classification.  The biggest difference with this book is that I'm not convinced literary scholarship will one day recognize it, but I am becoming more convinced that it deserves the "Classic Literature" status nonetheless.  It is truly an epic tale, as it spans several decades and covers such major themes as history, war, and love.  De Bernieres wrote beautifully, at times filling my heart with joy and at times breaking it.  His characters are unforgettable, as are the images he creates within the story.  It has a grandness reminiscent of Les Miserables, though I do not pretend de Bernieres quite reached that scale.

This novel is set in Greece, beginning in 1943.  The Italian army has invaded their island during the occupation of World War II.  The mood in the air is full of suspicion and resentment as the Greek people adjust to feeling jailed on their own island.  Yet we also get to know a few members of the Italian army, and we discover that they have mixed feelings and discomfort as well.  Each chapter is written in the perspective of a different character, which provides wonderful variety and depth to the tale.  If I could only pick one aspect I like about this novel, it is that every single character deepens as the story continues.  Their superficial layers are peeled back, and we get a glimpse of genuine and exposed hearts, for better or for worse.  Our initial impressions of them change as the story develops, which adds to the epic feel of everything at the end.

As it often happens in real life, some of the best relationships in the story are complicated.  Corelli is the leader of the Italian unit, who would be much better suited to play in a band than work in the army.  He wants to carry fun and light-heartedness around him, but we also see the courage and loyalty that is at the base of it all.  Pelagia is arguably the heroine in the book, and I have much love for her character.  She makes mistakes but also learns from them, and she sacrifices for the most important people in her life.

Yet Carl, the quiet Italian officer, is possibly my favorite character.  He perfectly exemplifies what a book can do that a movie never could.  He doesn't speak many lines, but we have access to his private thoughts.  During his chapters, we learn of his character, integrity, and pain.  A movie can never let you inside a person's head like a book can.  It reminds me of Chief Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  It's as though we have obtained a pass into someone's heart, and it feels so very genuine and real.  When Carl's shining moment came, I was enraptured and subconsciously had my hand over my heart, even though I was sitting in an airport terminal.  In a book, the quiet people can be the most captivating.

I am always most drawn to the character development in stories, which means that I can love a book even if it does not have a lot of action.  However, there is endless action in Captain Corelli's Mandolin, so I am confident it will be interesting to just about everyone.  It is one of those books that I don't hesitate when I suggest to others, and it passed around my group of friends very quickly.  I'm not sure that the scholars will mark it as a Classic in the future, but I think it would deserve the status if it ever achieved it.  Happy reading.


Laura Katherine said...

I'm so glad you posted about Captain Corelli! I just had my mom read this book, and she loved it. It will always remain one of my favorite books. Very nice summary.

Amy said...

Thanks, Laura! I just handed it out to a friend as well. I definitely hold Sam BT responsible for getting us all to read it. :)