Friday, June 26, 2015

The Little World of Don Camillo by Giovanni Guareschi

I have been intrigued by author Gary Schmidt and when I read that The Little World of Don Camillo was his favorite book, I determined to get my hands on it.

Don Camillo is a Catholic priest in post-WWII Italy. His nemesis is Peppone, the communist mayor who does all he can to undermine the work of the village church. The book relates the conflicts  of their two very different lives and how they try to resolve them. Don Camillo often talks to the Lord (looking up at the crucifix in the chapel) about his enemy and the prayers are hilariously funny. As Camillo tells God how he plans revenge on his enemy, the Lord talks him out of it, reminding him that he is a man of the cloth. (In the introduction, the author makes it clear that the voice of God in the book is not really God, but the voice of Camillo's own conscience so I did not find these light-hearted conversations to be offensive.)

Sometimes Camillo listens to God, but at other times he can't resist getting even with Peppone. Not only did I enjoy the humor of these escapades, but I also appreciated the complex relationship between the two men. They hate yet respect each other, and on a few occasions one of them helps the other in order to save his reputation. The final chapter is pure gold as the two of them sit in the church, working quietly in restoring figures for the Christmas manger scene. It's funny, poignant, and redemptive and I closed the book with a happy, contented sigh.

Although I loved this book, I'm not sure that everyone else will. The humor is definitely quirky and you would have to patient with the fact that the book is not plot-driven. But it's a real gem.

Footnote: the books I've read by Schmidt are The Wednesday Wars (reviewed here), and Okay for Now (reviewed here).

1 comment:

Glynn said...

I first read the Don Camillo stories when I was in high school, and loved them. Not long ago I found one of them at a used book sale, and bought it -- to discover that I still loved Don Camillo.