Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières takes place on the Greek isle of Cephalonia under German and Italian occupation during Word War II.
The jovial Italian Captain Antonio Corelli is quartered with Dr. Iannis and his daughter Pelagia. Despite the fact that Captain Corelli is Italian and considered the enemy, his love of life, his kind joyful spirit, and his gifted ability on the mandolin, all work to win Pelagia’s heart.
But, can their love survive the tragic circumstances of war, the great losses and sufferings of the Cephalonian people, and the unspeakable atrocities committed.
From the Publisher
Extravagant, inventive, emotionally sweeping, Corelli’s Mandolin is the story of a timeless place that one day wakes up to find itself in the jaws of history. The place is the Greek island of Cephallonia, where gods once dabbled in the affairs of men and the local saint periodically rises from his sarcophagus to cure the mad. Then the tide of World War II rolls onto the island’s shores in the form of the conquering Italian army.
Caught in the occupation are Pelagia, a willful, beautiful young woman, and the two suitors vying for her love: Mandras, a gentle fisherman turned ruthless guerilla, and the charming, mandolin-playing Captain Corelli, a reluctant officer of the Italian garrison on the island. Rich with loyalties and betrayals, and set against a landscape where the factual blends seamlessly with the fantastic, Corelli’s Mandolin is a passionate novel as rich in ideas as it is genuinely moving. Random House
Book Club Party Ideas for Corelli’s Mandolin
Captain Corelli was ever the optimist, so I placed a pot of basil in my window sill and a few small black stones to honor his indomitable spirit.
“I shall have a pot of basil on my sill to remind me of Greece. Perhaps it will bring me good luck”
My decorations are a print of Saint Gerasimos icon (printed off the internet), sprigs of rosemary for the smell of Pelagia’s hair, and Antonia (The mandolin in the photo is actually a treasured family hierloom).
For a classic Grecian touch, I decorated the table in gold and white. I laid out a white linen tablecloth and painted grape vine and grape leaves (available at an arts and craft store) gold to decorate the table.
I lit gold tapers placed in silver candlesticks and placed each on a small gold plate. Each place setting consisted of white dinnerware on a gold platter, with flatware wrapped in a white linen napkin and completed with a gold grape napkin ring.
“Pelagia looked at Corelli as he sat at the table, and felt the need to comfort him. ‘What is Antonia?’ she asked.
He avoided her eyes, ‘My mandolin. I am a musician.'”
What a lucky find: Music from The Novels of Louis de Bernieres CD which includes the Persichini polka, Polcha Variata, Corelli played for Pelagia and the concerto he played for Dr. Iannis.
Book Club Menu for Corelli’s Mandolin
Each course can be presented using the blue and white colors of the Greek flag.
Lay all the food out on table, Greek-style, and enjoy the eating experience by heartily partaking of all the dishes. Pelagia used the communal wood-fire oven central to Greek village life for baking casseroles and breads, such as this delicious, crusty Greek Country Bread (Horiatiki Psomi).
I made sure I had plenty to be enjoyed throughout the meal with a cruet of olive oil.
Country Greek salads have only a few required ingredients: feta cheese, olives, and, of course, olive oil. The vegetables are up to your imagination. I stuck with the basics and used plenty of fresh tomato, cucumber, red onion, and green and red bell pepper for my Greek-inspired Country Salad (Horiatiki Salata).
“‘This is Cephalonian Meat Pie ,’ said the doctor in an informative tone of voice, ‘except that, thanks to your people, it doesn’t have any meat in it.'” (My recipe does!)
An exotic, classic Greek dessert, Baklava is made of layers of paper-thin phyllo sheets, chopped walnuts and almonds, honey, cinnamon, and butter.
Book Club Resources for Corelli’s Mandolin
- “An exuberant mixture of history and romance, written with a wit that is incandescent” – Los Angeles Times Book Review
- “Brims with all the grand topics of literature–love and death, heroism and skull-duggery, humor and pathos, not to mention art and religion. . . . A good old-fashioned novel.” – Washington Post Book World
- “Stunning. . . . A high-spirited historical romance. . . . Remarkable.” – The New York Times Book Review
Discussion Questions for Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres
- Pelagia’s understanding of love changes and grows throughout the novel. How do her perceptions of love change?
- De Bernières romantic hero, Corelli, is a musician and also an Italian and part of the forces occupying Cephalonia and the other Greek Isles. In what ways does music transcend all boundaries? Corelli’s composition “Pelagia’s March” is especially significant. In what way?
- When the war was finally over what did you think of the circumstances that kept Pelagia and Corelli apart? Could you understand why Pelagia did not seek Corelli out? Could you understand Pelagia’s initial rage at Corelli when they meet again?
- Were you satisfied with the novel’s end? Did you feel that the conclusion to Pelagia’s and Corelli’s story felt real? How did the final scene make you feel?
Visit the website of Louis de Bernières
Personal Insights, Favorite Quotes, etc…
Oh, and be sure to reread Chapter 42 How like a Woman is a Mandolin. I just love this chapter, which begins:
“How like a woman is a mandolin, how gracious and how lovely. In the evening when the dogs howl and the crickets chirr, and the huge moon hoists above the hills, and in Argostoli the searchlights search for false alarms, I take my sweet Antonia. I brush her strings, softly, and I say to her, ‘How can you be made of wood?’ Just as I see Pelagia and ask without speaking, ‘Are you truly made of flesh?’…”
“He heard a melody begin to rise up in his heart, something joyful that captured the eternal spirit of Greece, a Greek concerto.”
Louis de Bernieres writes lovingly of Cephalonia, a breathtakingly beautiful island, and of its hospitable, engaging inhabitants.
The Island of Cephalonia, muses Dr. Iannis, is “so immense in antiquity that the very rocks themselves exhale nostalgia and the red earth lies stupefied not only by the sun, but by the impossible weight of memory.”
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