I recently realized that one of my most cherished assumption about myself, that I’m decently well read, was quite off the mark. The realization has partly to do with a friend, herself a voracious reader, who made a similar remark. That did it. If even she ain’t well read, where does that leave me? I decided to work on it.
This same friend lent me a few books from her collection, and I’m chewing at them, along with my normal quota of massively parallelized reading (which is the principal reason why I never finish any of the tens of books I’m reading at any time). So in a way, accidentally I stumbled onto Giovanni Guareschi and his (The) Little World of Don Camillo. For a change, I went into single book mode, and owing to the fact that the book is rather small, I finished it at a couple of goes. That in itself deserves a strong round of applause for the book! But the first thing I remembered was this SSM’s book blog-site. I owe him a few reviews, and at the risk of reviewing an already well read book, I decided to go ahead.
For the uninitiated (like I was just a week back), Giovanni Guareschi is an Italian journalist, and novelist, whose biography if it’s written (and I assume it must have been) should be more interesting than most fiction. However, he is better known (as I learnt) for his stories of a little village somewhere in the valley of the river Po. The central character is a Catholic Priest who is always ready to give back two punches for every one he receives, if the Lord, the Christ himself (but not The Christ, as Giovanni Guareschi would say) would let him get away with it. For Don Camillo, the Priest, talks to the Lord, and the Lord talks back to him. And Camillo’s Lord has a fine sense of humour too!
Camillo’s prime adversary in the village is a communist Mayor, Peppone, is in a certain sense a carbon copy of Camillo — nice at heart, passionate about his belief system, and combative to the core. The stories could well be included into a fourth standard text-book, if one goes by the look and feel of it, but then that’s the greatness of the author, who reduces the central conflict — between a predominately religious orthrodox world-view and a godless communistic one — into an almost cartoon world war, where the warm forces of humanity turn out to be the winners. The greatest achievement of the book has to be the liberal ethos it espouses without any preaching. A book probably more relevant to the present day India, deeply divided along multiple intellectual axes. And to hell with my rationing of the word, it’s a poignant book — if there was one. Welcome, to The Little World of Don Camillo.