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Book Review: Captain Corelli's Mandolin

Book Review: Captain Corelli's Mandolin

Suitable for 15+!


A story with such a poetic title is not what you’d expect from this harrowing tale of war. Many war books are based around what it’s like fighting in the wars, to be on the battlefield. If not that, then it is London during the Blitz, or some other well documented event. What’s different about this book is that it’s set on a tranquil Greek island, and Greece during the Second World War is so often forgotten about by many people. The story follows Pelagia and her father, the island’s doctor. When the Italians come to town, our story of impossible love and the destruction of war begins.


Pelagia, her family and friends all live a rural life on the beautiful island of Kefalonia, off the West coast of Greece. Many people on the island are poor, and rely on agriculture and fishing to survive. Whilst they do not have the luxuries of city life, they are happy, and never go hungry or without a roof over their heads. Then, the war reaches Greece, and the island comes under the control of the Italian army – under supervision of the German army. It’s not ideal, but it’s not cruel, either. Pelagia falls in love with a charming army Captain, who loves music. As international hostilities grow and the relationship between Hitler and Mussolini becomes strained, Kefalonia is then brutally taken over by the Germans, and for the duration of the war the Greek islanders suffer unimaginable cruelty at their hands.


So, if you haven’t already gathered, this isn’t a book for the faint of heart. It’s very harrowing, and although it doesn’t sound like it, it’s a rewarding book to read. Pelagia’s and the Captain’s love endures, and in a way it mirrors the triumph of love over hate. However, the book is not particularly politically correct, either. The cold-blooded murder of both people and animals has the potential to shock some readers, but worse still, the book has been subject to accusations of xenophobia. That means dislike/hate of foreigners, and comes from the Greek word “kseno”, which means stranger. The way the ‘German’ character is portrayed in comparison to the Italian one (or even the Greek one) could definitely suggest a bias and stereotyping of all German people during the war.


The book is rather long, so if you don’t want to read it all, take a couple of hours to watch the film. I won’t say it’s less distressing, but it does cut out some of the incidences of cruelty or particularly graphic scenes. One of the reasons you should watch it is to see the beautiful island of Kefalonia itself. Most of the film was shot on the island itself, and the scenery will really make you fall in love. If that’s not enough reason, then surely Nicolas Cage playing the title character will have you dying to watch. Though he’s still as flamboyant, extroverted and fun as ever, he makes a convincing love interest and soldier.


The film’s beautiful on-location setting has had the effect of increasing tourism to Kefalonia, even if the book hasn’t. It might not have improved knowledge about Greece in the Second World War, but at least more people could now be aware that they suffered just as much as any other occupied nation. If you know nothing about this, but want to, then read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – it’s as good a place to start as any, and it sums up well the experience of Greek civilians in the atrocities of the Second World War.


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