Corellis mandolin, p.1
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       Corelli's Mandolin, p.1

           Louis de Bernières
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Corelli's Mandolin

  Acclaim for

  Louis de Bernières’s


  “A captivating read … a daring work. De Bernières writes with a sense of the fantastic [and] his writing takes on a terrible force. To embrace Corelli’s Mandolin is to be enveloped.”

  —Boston Globe

  “Dazzling … a fabulous book in the tradition of Tolstoy and Dickens.… So joyous and heartbreaking, so rich and musical and wise, that reading it is like discovering anew the enchanting power of fiction. With great skill, con brio and amore, de Bernières dances nimbly from bawdy humor through parody, satire, chronicle, idyll, romantic comedy and epic chant. That breathtaking virtuosity serves a humane vision in which the wildest comedy and the starkest tragedy join seamlessly.”

  —San Francisco Chronicle

  “A wonderful, hypnotic novel of fabulous scope and tremendous, iridescent charm.”

  —Joseph Heller

  “Great fun.… De Bernières has amazing powers of invention. He peoples his world with a dazzling variety of humanity at every level of society and with every shade of morals. It was writers like him who invented the novel, and it’s writers like him who keep it alive and well.”

  —Atlanta Journal-Constitution

  “Witty and profound … resonates with implications of grace.”

  —Philadelphia Inquirer

  “Louis de Bernières is in the direct line that runs through Dickens and Evelyn Waugh. Corelli’s Mandolin will give pleasure to all sorts of readers. It is so good that it will last.”

  —A. S. Byatt,

  The Evening Standard (London)


  —USA Today

  “Behind every page of Corelli’s Mandolin we sense its author’s intelligence, wit, heart, imagination, and wisdom. This is a great book.”

  —Richard Russo

  “If you like your novels hearty and sustaining, Louis de Bernières is the writer for you. He writes with gusto and reveals a fine comic sensibility which is captivating.… Not to be missed.”

  —The Times (London)

  “An utterly gorgeous, funny, and deeply affecting book.… A perfectly pitched love story about a doctor’s daughter and her two exuberant suitors. As the men woo her, de Bernières woos us—and succeeds splendidly.”


  “Graceful [and] satisfying.… De Bernières has a light touch with both comedy and tragedy. Like the great poets, de Bernières has the gift of turning the bloody mindlessness of great events into myth.… Corelli’s Mandolin is more a symphony than a solo piece, a multi-voiced triumph over history.”

  —Boston Literary Phoenix

  “Eccentric and larger than life characters, scenes of grotesque comedy, and the author’s acerbic view of organized religion, professional soldiery, official history, and any authority that catches his eye.… Who can resist an author with [his] command?”

  —The Atlantic

  “An ambitious, multi-layered novel.… Humor and humanity make the chorus of voices telling de Bernieres’s story not only comprehensible but harmonious.”

  —The Times Literary Supplement (London)

  “Astonishing.… His work encompasses cruelty, humor, love and friendship, hope and horror.… Both very funny and profoundly moving, sometimes at the same time.”

  —Literary Review (London)

  Louis de Bernières


  Louis de Bernières was born in 1954. After four disastrous months in the British army, he left for a village in Colombia, where he worked as a teacher in the morning and a cowboy in the afternoon. He returned to England, where he was employed as a mechanic, a landscape gardener, and a grounds-man at a mental hospital. He has published a trilogy of tragicomic novels, the last being The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman.

  ALSO BY Louis de Bernières

  The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts

  Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord

  The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman


  Copyright © 1994 by Louis de Bernières

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in Great Britain in hardcover as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Martin Secker & Warburg Limited, London, in 1994.

  First published in the United States in hardcover by

  Pantheon Books, a division of Random House, Inc.,

  New York, in 1994.

  The Library of Congress has cataloged the Pantheon edition as follows:

  De Bernières, Louis.

  Corelli’s mandolin/Louis de Bernières.

  p. cm.

  eISBN: 978-0-307-51821-7

  1. World War, 1939-1945—Greece, Cephallonia Island—Fiction. 2. Cephallonia Island (Greece)—History—Fiction. I. Title.

  PR6054.EI32C6 1994





  who in different places and different ways fought against the

  Fascists and the Nazis, lost many of their closest friends,

  and were never thanked



  About the Author

  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page



  The Soldier

  1 Dr Iannis Commences his History and is Frustrated

  2 The Duce

  3 The Strongman

  4 L’Omosessuale (1)

  5 The Man who Said ‘No’

  6 L’Omosessuale (2)

  7 Extreme Remedies

  8 A Funny Kind of Cat

  9 August 15th, 1940

  10 L’Omosessuale (3)

  11 Pelagia and Mandras

  12 All the Saint’s Miracles

  13 Delirium

  14 Grazzi

  15 L’Omosessuale (4)

  16 Letters to Mandras at the Front

  17 L’Omosessuale (5)

  18 The Continuing Literary Travails of Dr Iannis

  19 L’Omosessuale (6)

  20 The Wild Man of the Ice

  21 Pelagia’s First Patient

  22 Mandras Behind the Veil

  23 April 30th, 1941

  24 A Most Ungracious Surrender

  25 Resistance

  26 Sharp Edges

  27 A Discourse on Mandolins and a Concert

  28 Liberating the Masses (1)

  29 Etiquette

  30 The Good Nazi (1)

  31 A Problem with Eyes

  32 Liberating the Masses (2)

  33 A Problem with Hands

  34 Liberating the Masses (3)

  35 A Pamphlet Distributed on the Island, Entitled with the Fascist Slogan ‘Believe, Fight, and Obey’

  36 Education

  37 An Episode Confirming Pelagia’s Belief that Men do not Know the Difference Between Bravery and a Lack of Common Sense

  38 The Origin of Pelagia’s March

  39 Arsenios

  40 A Problem with Lips

  41 Snails

  42 How like a Woman is a Mandolin

  43 The Great Big Spiky Rustball

  44 Theft

  45 A Time of Innocence

  46 Bunnios

  47 Dr Iannis Counsels his Daughter

  48 La Scala

  49 The Doctor Advises the Captain

  50 A Time of Hiatus

  51 Paralysis

  52 Developments

  53 First Blood

  54 Carlo’s Farewell

  55 Victory

sp; 56 The Good Nazi (2)

  57 Fire

  58 Surgery and Obsequy

  59 The Historical Cachette

  60 The Beginning of her Sorrows

  61 Every Parting is a Foretaste of Death

  62 Of the German Occupation

  63 Liberation

  64 Antonia

  65 1953

  66 Rescue

  67 Pelagia’s Lament

  68 The Resurrection of the History

  69 Bean by Bean the Sack Fills

  70 Excavation

  71 Antonia Sings Again

  72 An Unexpected Lesson

  73 Restitution

  Author’s Note


  The Soldier

  Down some cold field in a world unspoken

  the young men are walking together, slim and tall,

  and though they laugh to one another, silence is not broken;

  there is no sound however clear they call.

  They are speaking together of what they loved in vain here,

  but the air is too thin to carry the thing they say.

  They were young and golden, but they came on pain here,

  and their youth is age now, their gold is grey.

  Yet their hearts are not changed, and they cry to one another,

  ‘What have they done with the lives we laid aside?

  Are they young with our youth, gold with our gold, my brother?

  Do they smile in the face of death, because we died?’

  Down some cold field in a world uncharted

  the young seek each other with questioning eyes.

  They question each other, the young, the golden-hearted,

  of the world that they were robbed of in their quiet paradise.


  1 Dr Iannis Commences his History and is Frustrated

  Dr Iannis had enjoyed a satisfactory day in which none of his patients had died or got any worse. He had attended a surprisingly easy calving, lanced one abscess, extracted a molar, dosed one lady of easy virtue with Salvarsan, performed an unpleasant but spectacularly fruitful enema, and had produced a miracle by a feat of medical prestidigitation.

  He chuckled to himself, for no doubt this miracle was already being touted as worthy of St Gerasimos himself. He had gone to old man Stamatis’ house, having been summoned to deal with an earache, and had found himself gazing down into an aural orifice more dank, be-lichened, and stalagmitic even than the Drogarati cave. He had set about cleaning the lichen away with the aid of a little cotton, soaked in alcohol, and wrapped about the end of a long matchstick. He was aware that old man Stamatis had been deaf in that ear since childhood, and that it had been a constant source of pain, but was nonetheless surprised when, deep in that hairy recess, the tip of his matchstick seemed to encounter something hard and unyielding; something, that is to say, which had no physiological or anatomical excuse for its presence. He took the old man over to the window, threw open the shutters, and an explosion of midday heat and light instantaneously threw the room into an effulgent dazzle, as though some importunate and unduly luminous angel had misguidedly picked that place for an epiphany. Old Stamatis’ wife tutted; it was simply bad housekeeping to allow that much light into the house at such an hour. She was sure that it stirred up the dust; she could clearly see the motes rising up from the surfaces.

  Dr Iannis tilted the old man’s head and peered into the ear. With his long matchstick he pressed aside the undergrowth of stiff grey hairs embellished with flakes of exfoliated scurf. There was something spherical within. He scraped its surface to remove the hard brown cankerous coating of wax, and beheld a pea. It was undoubtedly a pea; it was light green, its surface was slightly wrinkled, and there could not be any doubt in the matter. ‘Have you ever stuck anything down your ear?’ he demanded.

  ‘Only my finger,’ replied Stamatis.

  ‘And how long have you been deaf in this ear?’

  ‘Since as long as I can remember.’

  Dr Iannis found an absurd picture rising up before his imagination. It was Stamatis as a toddler, with the same gnarled face, the same stoop, the same overmeasure of aural hair, reaching up to the kitchen table and taking a dried pea from a wooden bowl. He stuck it into his mouth, found it too hard to bite, and crammed it into his ear. The doctor chuckled, ‘You must have been a very annoying little boy.’

  ‘He was a devil.’

  ‘Be quiet, woman, you didn’t even know me in those days.’

  ‘I have your mother’s word, God rest her soul,’ replied the old woman, pursing her lips and folding her arms, ‘and I have the word of your sisters.’

  Dr Iannis considered the problem. It was undoubtedly an obdurate and recalcitrant pea, and it was too tightly packed to lever it out. ‘Do you have a fishhook, about the right size for a mullet, with a long shank? And do you have a light hammer?’

  The couple looked at each other with the single thought that their doctor must have lost his mind. ‘What does this have to do with my earache?’ asked Stamatis suspiciously.

  ‘You have an exorbitant auditory impediment,’ replied the doctor, ever conscious of the necessity for maintaining a certain iatric mystique, and fully aware that ‘a pea in the ear’ was unlikely to earn him any kudos. ‘I can remove it with a fishhook and a small hammer; it’s the ideal way of overcoming un embarras de petit pois.’ He spoke the French words in a mincingly Parisian accent, even though his irony was apparent only to himself.

  A hook and a hammer were duly fetched, and the doctor carefully straightened the hook on the stone flags of the floor. He then summoned the old man and told him to lay his head on the sill in the light. Stamatis lay there rolling his eyes, and the old lady put her hands over hers, watching through her fingers. ‘Hurry up, Doctor,’ exclaimed Stamatis, ‘this sill is hotter than hell.’

  The doctor carefully inserted the straightened hook into the hirsute orifice and raised the hammer, only to be deflected from his course by a hoarse shriek very reminiscent of that of a raven. Perplexed and horrified, the old wife was wringing her hands and keening, ‘O, o, o, you are going to drive a fishhook into his brain. Christ have mercy, all the saints and Mary protect us.’

  This interjection gave the doctor pause; he reflected that if the pea was very hard, there was a good chance that the barb would not penetrate, but would drive the pea deeper into its recess. The drum might even be broken. He straightened up and twirled his white moustache reflectively with one forefinger. ‘Change of plan,’ he announced. ‘I have decided upon further thought that it would be better to fill his ear up with water and mollify the supererogatory occlusion. Kyria, you must keep this ear filled with warm water until I return this evening. Do not allow the patient to move, keep him lying on his side with his ear full. Is that understood?’

  Dr Iannis returned at six o’clock and hooked the softened pea successfully without the aid of a hammer, small or otherwise. He worked it out deftly enough, and presented it to the couple for their inspection. Encrusted with thick dark wax, rank and malodorous, it was recognisable to neither of them as anything leguminous. ‘It’s very papilionaceous, is it not?’ enquired the doctor.

  The old woman nodded with every semblance of having understood, which she had not, but with an expression of wonder alight in her eyes. Stamatis clapped his hand to the side of his head and exclaimed, ‘It’s cold in there. My God, it’s loud. I mean everything is loud. My own voice is loud.’

  ‘Your deafness is cured,’ announced Dr Iannis. ‘A very satisfactory operation, I think.’

  ‘I’ve had an operation,’ said Stamatis complacently. ‘I’m the only person I know who’s had an operation. And now I can hear. It’s a miracle, that’s what it is. My head feels empty, it feels hollow, it feels as though my whole head has filled up with spring water, all cold and clear.’

  ‘Well, is it empty, or is it full?’ demanded the old lady. ‘Talk some sense when the doctor has been kind enough to cure you.’ She to
ok Iannis’ hand in both of her own and kissed it, and shortly afterwards he found himself walking home with a fat pullet under each arm, a shiny dark aubergine stuffed into each pocket of his jacket, and an ancient pea wrapped up in his handkerchief, to be added to his private medical museum.

  It had been a good day for payments; he had also earned two very large and fine crayfish, a pot of whitebait, a basil plant, and an offer of sexual intercourse (to be redeemed at his convenience). He had resolved that he would not be taking up that particular offer, even if the Salvarsan were effective. He was left with a whole evening in which to write his history of Cephallonia, as long as Pelagia had remembered to purchase some more oil for the lamps.

  ‘The New History of Cephallonia’ was proving to be a problem; it seemed to be impossible to write it without the intrusion of his own feelings and prejudices. Objectivity seemed to be quite unattainable, and he felt that his false starts must have wasted more paper than was normally used on the island in the space of a year. The voice that emerged in his account was intractably his own; it was never historical. It lacked grandeur and impartiality. It was not Olympian.

  He sat down and wrote: ‘Cephallonia is a factory that breeds babies for export. There are more Cephallonians abroad or at sea than there are at home. There is no indigenous industry that keeps families together, there is not enough arable land, there is an insufficiency of fish in the ocean. Our men go abroad and return here to die, and so we are an island of children, spinsters, priests, and the very old. The only good thing about it is that only the beautiful women find husbands amongst those men that are left, and so the pressure of natural selection has ensured that we have the most beautiful women in all of Greece, and perhaps in the whole region of the Mediterranean. The unhappy thing about this is that we have beautiful and spirited women married to the most grotesque and inappropriate husbands, who are good for nothing and never could be, and we have some sad and ugly women that nobody wants, who are born to be widows without ever having had a husband.’


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