Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières: Book Review

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Corelli's Mandolin

3 Stars

Pelagia is a beautiful 17-year-old girl living on the Greek island of Cephallonia when World War II breaks out. The Italians eventually occupy the island and that’s when she meets Captain Antonio Corelli, a man who joined the Army because he thought it would give him plenty of time to practice his mandolin.

There were about 100 pages when I was enchanted by this book, from about page 250-350. Everything else was just okay.

The author is a beautiful writer. He’s very poetic and his images just leapt to life for me. He’s also a very intelligent, multi-lingual writer and my vocabulary, which I think is probably better than average, was not up to the task. Aside from obscure English words, there were bits of Greek, Italian, French, and a smattering of German thrown in for good luck. Wow. I could generally figure out what was going on, but reading this was a little too much like work in some parts. The book is told from many, many, points of view and each voice is very distinct. That’s very hard to pull off, so he did get huge points for that.

He also has a little bit of the whole Catch-22 thing going on. He shows you the absurdity of this whole war–well, this part of it, anyway–very plainly. But where Joseph Heller chose to show the horrible side of war in a very graphic injury that you’ve read about for a while before you find out what it is, de Bernières horrifies you and then breaks your heart in a couple of scenes that are ultimately tearfully, achingly beautiful. I’m not a crier, but even I welled up a little. He shows that while war can be absurd, it’s also ugly, but our more-human moments shine all the more brightly in its darkness. Just beautiful.

The ending–eh. I saw it coming from pretty far out, so it was predictable but still left me hugely frustrated.

You could probably read my favorite 100 pages by themselves and mostly get it without reading everything else. If you ever have time on your hands at the bookstore, give it a try. Mostly though it was a lot of work for such a short payoff. I see here on GR that “people who viewed this also viewed” Love in the Time of Cholera. I can see that. So I’ll agree. If you enjoyed that one, you’ll probably enjoy this one too.

Reviewed July 16, 2009

Read an excerpt.

Find author Louis de Bernières on his website.

Buy Corelli’s Mandolin at


Friday Flashback Reviews are a weekly feature here on The Introverted Reader. These are old reviews I wrote on GoodReads. Thanks to Angieville and her Retro Friday Reviews for the inspiration and encouragement!

I have an affiliate relationship with Malaprop’s, my local independent bookstore, and Better World Books. I will receive a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase books through links on my site.

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  1. I don't know ANY Greek, French or Italian. Hope that doesn't completely ruin it for me because I think I'll start looking for it at my library. Books that take place during war seem to intrigue me. I blame Dear John for that one. 😉
    It was a pleasure reading your review. Keep 'em coming! 🙂

  2. I have read this for my book club about 13 years ago. I remember being enchanted by the writing, like you said very poetic. I can't remember the book to well, but enjoyed reading it. Thank you for your post.


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