Captain Corelli is one of those unforgettable characters who will stay with me for a while. As a member of an Italian troop who invades the small island of Cephallonia in Greece during World War II, he captivates his delightful house host Dr. Iannis. As a musician, 'in love' with Antonia (his mandolin), he also slowly creeps into the heart of Dr. Iannis' feisty and earnest daughter Pelagia. And as a decent, humorous, sincere and honest man, he ends up inspiring everyone else around him.
'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.'(opening lines)
'Just bring in the wood before she asks for it, and bring her a flower every time you come back from the field. If it's cold put a shawl around her shoulders, and if it's hot, bring her a glass of water. It's simple. Women only nag when they feel unappreciated. Think of her as your mother who has fallen ill, and treat her accordingly.'(43)
'This is how we should be. We should care for each other more than we care for ideas, or else we will end up killing each other. Am I not right?'(52)
'There was something too decisive about his movements, his unconsidered responses; can you trust someone who replies immediately, without thought? Someone whose actions and words are poetic rather than solidly cogitated?'(84)
'What I regret is having had to learn a most bitter lesson about the way in which personal ambitions can lead a man, against his will and against his nature, into playing a part in events that will cause history to reap him with opprobrium and contempt.'(91)
'A column of men, much smarter than most of the others, marched by unison. At their head perspired Captain Antonio Corelli of the 33rd Regiment of Artillery, and slung across his back was a case containing the mandolin that he had named Antonia because it was the other half of himself. He spotted Pelagia 'Bella bambina at nine o'clock,' he shouted, 'E-y-e-s left.'
In unison the heads of the troops snapped in her direction, and for one astonishing minute she endured a march-past of the most comical and grotesque antics and expressions devisable by man. There was a soldier who crossed his eyes and folded down his lower lip, who pouted and blew her a kiss, another who converted his marching into a Charlie Chaplin walk, another who pretended at each step to trip over his own feet, and another who twisted his helmet sideways, flared his nostrils, and rolled his eyes so high that the pupils vanished behind the upper lids. Pelagia put her hand to her mouth.'(157-158)
'I think that Corelli was able to find it so funny because music was the only thing he considered serious, until he met Pelagia... he was like one of those saprophytic orchids than can create harmony and wonder even as it grows and blossoms on a pile of shit, in a place of skulls and bones. He let his rifle rust, and even lost it once or twice, but he won battles armed with nothing but a mandolin.'(163)
'She watched wonderingly as the fingers of his left hand crawled like a powerful and menacing spider up and down the diapason. She saw the tendons moving and rippling beneath the skin, and then she saw that a symphony of expressions was passing over his face; at times serene, at times suddenly furious, occasionally smiling, from time to time stern and dictatorial, and then coaxing and gentle. Transfixed by this, she realized suddenly that there was something about music that head never been revealed to her before: it was not merely the production of sweet sound; it was, to those who understood it, an emotional and intellectual odyssey.'(186)
'Corelli looked at her silhouette against the light of the window, and a tune came into his head. He could visualize the patterned patrol of his fingers on the freeboard of the mandolin, he could hear the disciplined notes ringing from the treble, singing the praise of Pelagia as they also portrayed her wrath and her resistance. It was a march, a march of a proud woman who prosecuted war with hard words and kindnesses. He heard simple chords and a martial melody that implied a world of grace.'(239)
'I think of Pelagia in terms of chords... She plays with a cat and laughs, and it is sol. She raises an eyebrow when she catches me observing, and pretends to reproach me and reprove me for the guilt of admiration, and it is doh. She asks me a question, 'Haven't you anything useful to do?' and it is like re, requiring resolution.'(249)
'Love is a kind of dementia with very precise and oft-repeated clinical symptoms. You blush in each other's presence, you both hover in places where you expect the other to pass, you are both a little tongue-tied, you both laugh inexplicably and too long, you become quite nauseatingly girlish, and he becomes quite ridiculously gallant. You have also grown a little stupid.'(279-280)
'Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.'(281)
'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. So can it work?'(289)
Vintage Edition, 1998