Book Review: The Little World of Don Camillo
A Classic comedy of Small Town Italian Life
Being in the middle of a move, I have been largely absent from Upstream Reviews. For that I apologize. However, I have been in the middle of a delightful book series that has largely fit into my schedule by consisting of short stories—most of them 3-5 pages long.
Welcome to The Little World of Don Camillo.
If you have never heard of Don Camillo, the series is relatively simple. Don Camillo is a rural priest in a rustic setting near Italy’s Po river. He is hip deep in communists, including the local mayor, Peppone. The entire series is told in a sequence of short stories. Even later books that are strung together in a novel, (eg: Comrade Don Camillo) are told as a series of short stories. The entire series could probably be read as one novel.
Just as an example, the opening story involves Peppone’s wife bringing in his son to be baptized… because welcome to Italy, where even the Communists are Catholic… while also hating priests and the church. (Having been to Italy, this absurdity makes perfect sense.) The conflict comes from Peppone wanting his son baptized with the name Lenin. Hilarity ensues, with a punch up in the church. A lot happens over the course of four pages.
The fun part is that author Giovanni Guareschi (pronounced: G-war-esh-i) has seemingly infinite variations in stories, as well as resolutions.
Most of the stories are fall down funny, if only from just how absurd the situations are.
There are only three real characters in the world of Don Camillo. The first is of course, our titular hero. Don Camillo is not the average priest. He’s built like a tractor, pugnacious, and has the odd occasion to whip out a machinegun.
Peppone is the second main character. The communist mayor, who doubles as the local mechanic, is on the one hand a standard, long-winded Red windbag. On the other hand, he and Don Camillo may have coined the term frienemies— they are definitely the best of enemies.
The funny thing is that both of these men fought in World War II as partisans in the mountains. And both of them are ready and willing to throw down over the slightest reasoning.
Finally, we have Jesus Christ Himself, looking on from the cross in the church, offering commentary, and always keeping His Hand in on all events.
The “Little World” is so absurd, it feels like reading the newspaper. The characters are all vivid and well built, and even walk-on characters seem to have their own backstory. The town has its own history, and even the stones have their own tales.
On the one hand, politics isn’t essential to the series. Sure, Don Camillo and Peppone will come to blows over politics, but I don’t think it’s necessary to even pay attention to them.
On the other hand, if Communism is your religion, I hope you have a sense of humor about it, because it’s going to be lampooned. A lot. Sometimes harpooned.
If you dislike seeing a priest with a temper, and occasionally a machinegun, you may not like this one. But if you come into it with a sense of humor, The Little World of Don Camillo is enjoyable for all ages.
Who is it for?
This is for anyone who enjoys a good laugh, and doesn’t mind a dash of history thrown in for good measure.
Why Read It?
Because this is a fall down funny book
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