Literature, Love, Quote of the Day

Book Recommendation: Corelli’s Mandolin

Love is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion. That is just being “in love” which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it, we had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two–Louis de Bernières, Corelli’s Mandolin

Not long ago, I wrote about my recent adoption of “Audible” books as a means of revisiting some much-loved literature and philosophy tracts of my earlier life in an easy-to-absorb format which I can enjoy while doing a few other things that don’t always require much mental effort in-and-of themselves.

If I were to abandon all pretense, gaze into a mirror, look myself straight in the eye, and admit it to myself (always a healthy exercise), some of this new fascination may, to a certain extent, have been due to what I call Bereavement in the Time of Covid, a phenomenon which is certainly not exclusive to yours truly, but which resulted, especially in the early months, in days-at-a-time during which I heard no other human voice and couldn’t really go many places to socialize (there are limits to such opportunities at Home Depot, Lowes, Giant Eagle, Tractor Supply, and Rural King, even if you’re me).  And somehow, with the best will in the world, texting and ‘phoning it in’ doesn’t always quite do it.

And yet, now that things (around here at least) are pretty normal, and opportunities for socializing, having people to visit and stay, and just–in general–making new friends, have increased exponentially, I still find myself enjoying the pursuit.

My most recent indulgence is the audiobook of Corelli’s Mandolin, a sprawling, exquisite tale of love, war, humanity, brutality, and ultimately, redemption set on the Ionian island of Cephalonia during WWII and following.  It’s by Louis de Bernières, and is my favorite book of his. (It’s the first book of his I read, and while I’ve perused a few others, including his Latin American trilogy and Birds Without Wings (about the rise of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk), it’s the one I think defines him as a writer, and the one which he hasn’t surpassed, either before or since).

A few more quotes:

We should care for each other more than we care for ideas, or else we will end up killing each other.

And

I know you have not thought about it. Italians always act without thinking, it’s the glory and the downfall of your civilisation. A German plans a month in advance what his bowel movements will be at Easter, and the British plan everything in retrospect, so it always looks as though everything occurred as they intended. The French plan everything whilst appearing to be having a party, and the Spanish…well, God knows. Anyway, Pelagia is Greek, that’s my point.

Or

I should have brought her up stupid, ” said the doctor at last. “When women acquire powers of deduction there’s no knowing where trouble can end.

How much I love this book.

Please do not be dismayed if your only exposure to the story is the execrable 2001 movie starring the voluptuous Penelope Cruz as Pelagia (tasty, but unbelievable in that role) or the utterly banal Nicholas Cage (kiss of death–I don’t care how many ways he’s related to the Coppolas) as the tormented Antonio Corelli.  The book is exponentially better, on all counts.

Before I downloaded the Audible version, and in a rare moment of self-doubt, I found myself wondering if it was worth it, or if my elderly self might be giving in to a maudlin, sentimental, and overly personal, view of love, war, and the effects of both on the human psyche (central to the plot is a horrific atrocity).  So I decided to check some contemporaneous reviews.  Here’s what one had to say:

Swinging between antic ribaldry and criminal horror, between corrosive satire and infinite sorrow, this soaring novel glows with a wise humanity that is rare in contemporary fiction.

Thank you, Publisher’s Weekly, for saving me the trouble of writing any more.

P.S.  On the subject of hospitality, here’s a visitor I discovered yesterday on my trips up and down and back and forth to put the roof on the chicken coop:

What a cutie pie!  (Especially since I didn’t discover him inside my house.)  His body is, I should think, a bit more than an inch long.  I chivvied him over into a mess of tree roots, a place where there are plenty of opportunities to hide and stay cool.  I hope his mother is around somewhere (usually, that’s the case).  What a miracle of life.

*The photo at the top of this post is a detail from Janus Genelli’s Philemon Und Baucis, 1801.  A rendering of the story of the old couple who hospitably boarded and entertained the Greek gods when others wouldn’t and who were allowed to entwine their roots together and peacefully become one for all eternity. A just and gentle reward, one might expect, for that sort of kindness.  May it ever be so.

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