Book Review: Comrade Don Camillo
Author: Giovanni Guareschi (Mondo Piccolo: Il Compagno Don Camillo)
Author's posthumous web page: https://www.giovanninoguareschi.com/
Translator: Frances Frenaye
Date: 1963 (Italy), 1964 (U.S.)
Publisher: Rizzoli (Italy), American Book (U.S.)
ISBN: none; click on the picture to see it on Amazon
Length: 212 pages
Illustrations: cartoons by the author
Quote: “It’s to my interest that the Russians should be happy. That way they’ll stay quietly at home and not go bother other people.”
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Italy rejected fascism and considered Soviet-style “Communism.” Though never a functional democracy, Italy was still predominantly Catholic, and most people rejected the officially atheist Soviet party line. At the same time there was widespread sympathy for other Soviet ideals...even within Christian churches. Out of this sympathy grew the Little World of Don Camillo, a series of funny stories featuring a priest who talks out loud to "the Christ in his head."
Good friends in youth, the priest Don Camillo and the Communist Party leader Peppone clashed for more years than their parties clashed in real Italy, simply because Guareschi had thought of too many entertaining contests of wits to stop writing about them—and people around the world appreciated their conflicts. Don Camillo usually came out ahead at the end of each story, but he was always magnanimous about it, and so was Peppone. Both men were rough but intelligent, witty, sympathetic, and profoundly decent. Either was a good role model of how real liberals behave toward their political opponents. The deep friendship behind their wisecracks and disagreements earned sympathy for the characters, and a market for the series, around the world.
In this story sequence, Don Camillo, Peppone, and a selection of Italian Communists go to Russia. In order to take the tour Don Camillo has to promise the Bishop that he will convert at least a few of the Communists, if not to Christianity at least to a more liberal left-wing philosophy. This he does, with just one moment of deus—or should that be Stereotypical Soviet Horridness—ex machina toward the end.
Guareschi whimsically describes Don Camillo's conversations with Christ as if they were really happening, although in a note on the first volume of The Little World of Don Camillo he spells out that they are to be imagined as happening in Don Camillo’s mind. Some think the portrayal of the Christ in Don Camillo’s head is flippant. I suspect that Guareschi sincerely believed that what he and Don Camillo imagine as Christ is based on the historical Jesus--also a hardworking blue-collar type, with a mean mouth, and not averse to educating people by throwing them headlong out of buildings. Sincerity and accuracy are not always the same thing.
Any books in this series that the reader can find are warmly recommended to any reader willing to pardon the subjectivity of Guareschi’s “Christ.” All of them can be said to define a real liberal, in the historical sense of a free and generous thinker who may disagree with what someone else says but will defend that person’s right to say it. Each book gives three examples—Don Camillo, Peppone, and Guareschi.
Guareschi has not needed a dollar for many years. The lowest price I can offer on his books, English and Spanish editions of which are still relatively common in the United States, is $5 per book + $5 per package + $1 per online payment. You can probably find a better price, but if you buy one or more of Guareschi's books here, you can tuck them into the same package with one or more Fair Trade Books and help us support a living author.