I think what strikes you first about de Bernieres is how human is writing is. It’s mundane, describes the ordinary, or perhaps ordinary people caught up in history, in change. While war wages around the sleeping, pastoral island of Cephallonia, for example, goats must still be milked, fathers scolded and meals shared, distant politics debated, and peas pulled out of ears by local doctors.
Even when occupied by the invading Italians, the writing focuses on the day to day, how it feels to have your life shaken to the core and still cook a family meal, the simple pleasures of music, the things that bind people together and the things that change them irrevocably.
The story revolves around the villiage doctor, Iannes, and his daughter, Pelagia, who live on the island of Cephallonia, and the lives of the villiage around them. Pelagia starts to fall for an fisherman, but as he is called away to war, her doubts about the match surface. As they are occupied by the Italians, Captain Antonio Corelli is billeted in their house. Against the odds, his humour and kindness show, and though she resists, Pelagia starts to see more and more in the Captain. But war and politics rage around them, and history threatens to tear them apart.
There is a lot more to this than just the central love story, as the plot follows the lives of Pelagia’s fiance at war, a delightful and tragic figure of a soldier who has to hide his homosexuality, a little girl called Lemoni, and other local figures. It’s often funny, sad, brutal, musical, bitter sweet… but it’s a good story.
I don’t want to spoil the end for any of you, but if you read it or have read it, there was one thing that really didn’t ring true to me, so I’d love to hear what you think.
Read It If: I think it would please readers of magic realism, like Isobel Allende or maybe Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but it will please any current de Bernieres fans too. It’s a good one to start on as well, if you haven’t read the author before. It should please historical fiction lovers too.