Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi

[Translated from the Italian by Una Vincenzo Troubridge]

Rating: 4 Stars

It was by sheer accident that I came across this lovely little book many years ago. I found it in the small library of the small town that I was living in at that time, sorted under a note that read, ‘Librarian’s Recommendation’. I fell in love with the book, and the writer’s style all at once.

Guareschi, a WW II veteran and plyer of multiple trades, was the author and illustrator of the Don Camillo books, of which there are six. ‘The Little World of Don Camillo’ initiates the series with our introduction to the feisty priest Don Camillo, and his rival, Mayor Peppone of the Communist Party.

Less of a novel and more a connecting suite of short stories, the plot draws on the various clashes between Camillo and Peppone – be it Camillo’s refusal to baptize Peppone’s infant son with a name like ‘Lenin’; or, their feuding soccer-match; or, the ensuing ruckus when the Bishop visits their village.

Though they may lock horns in their battles to win the heart and soul of their community, these two ideological stalwarts have more in common than they want to admit. Despite his tendency to give fiery orations against the Church and its appointees, Peppone is at heart as much an Italian Catholic as anyone else in the village. Devout Don Camillo, though a man of God, is as free with administering lessons with his fists and feet, as he is with his sermons. But if the circumstances call for it, they will work together for their excitable and boisterous flock/compatriots.

This underlying conviction, that men of good intentions can, and will, put aside their differences for the greater good is the essence of the book – one of the reasons for its charm, that, and the benevolent take on humanity as evinced by Camillo’s confidante, the receptor of all his musings – the conversational Christ, who looks on with an equally tolerant eye on Camillo and Peppone alike.

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