A felicitous change of setting to Greece after an epic trilogy set in Latin America (The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman, 1993, etc.) seems to have liberated de Berniäres's particular brand of intelligent satire. Dr. Iannis, a wise-father figure of the sort familiar from de Berniäres's other books, plays choric host to a portrait of life on the island of Cephallonia as Greece is invaded by Italian and German troops during WW II. His brilliant and beautiful daughter, Pelagia, is the story's heroine. Swirling around them are de Berniäres's trademark crowd: earth mother, feral girl-child, village strongman, drunkard priest, politically argumentative old man, inarticulate goatherder, and Mandras, an illiterate fisherman who feeds dolphins. They are joined by the soldiers: Carlo Piero Guercio, a tightly closeted homosexual; Captain Antonio Corelli, his clown of a commanding officer, who is a virtuoso mandolin player; and GÅnter Weber, a German who carries around a gramophone so that everyone can enjoy ``Lili Marlene.'' Beginning with Dr. Iannis removing a 60-year-old pea from the ear of one of the villagers and miraculously restoring his hearing, the narrative features one scene of biting political satire after another, although excerpts from Dr. Iannis's historical writings sometimes slow the pace. De Berniäres has toned down his predilection for magical realism; there is just enough of it here, used in just the right way and at the right time, to enhance the sense of wonder and horror intertwined throughout the book. The horror comes from the immediacy of war, the starvation, illness, and madness it brings with it, and the insidious way it changes the innocent Mandras from haunting merman to haunted, sadistic beast. The wonder comes from moments like Pelagia's spying on young Mandras while he frolics with dolphins and the antics of Corelli, Pelagia's fascist lover. Good, thoughtful reading: a black comedy in the Vonnegut tradition.
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