Wednesday, 5 April 2000

Giovanni Guareschi: The Little World of Don Camillo (1948)

Translation:  Una Vincenzo Troubridge
Edition: Gollancz
Review number: 469

Having recently been disappointed on re-reading several novels which had delighted me in the past, it was with some trepidation that I returned to the first (and best) of the collections of Don Camillo stories. The stories of the tiny village on the Po continue to delight, thankfully. Originally written as a series of satires in an Italian political magazine, the stories are still amusing even though the political events which gave birth to them are long gone - and I am fairly certain that this will not be the case with many of their modern equivalents.

Don Camillo is the priest in this small village, whose perpetual enemy is the Communist mayor Peppone. The two have a mutual respect and often get along quite well, despite their political differences. (In the late forties, the Roman Catholic church was a strongly anti-Communist political force in Italy.) The other major character is the voice of Christ, who speaks to Don Camillo from the crucifix on the altar of the village church, and effectively acts as his conscience.

Each story takes the form of some triggering event (a visit from a bishop, or Peppone's wife bringing a baby for baptism with the name Lenin, for example), which leads to conflict between priest and mayor, usually resolved because they are both good fellows at heart. The political fighting goes on because it is good fun in itself rather than the means to an end, which prevents it from becoming too serious and means that these stories have not lost their interest with the loss of relevance of the political issues that they cover. Above all, thought, it is the simple, good natured charm of the people of the village which has ensured their survival as comedy.

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