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With this post, I begin the promised series of entries on each of the Don Camillo books in English. Here, then, is the one that started it all:

The Little World of Don Camillo, by Giovanni Guareschi.
Copyright Giovanni Guareschi, 1950. Translated by Una Vincenzo Troubridge. NEW YORK: Pellegrini and Cudahy, 1950. Published simultaneously in Canada by George J. MacLeod, Ltd., Toronto. First published in Great Britain by Victor Gollancz, Ltd.; 1951.  

fists raised

Amazon-style Review (this may even be the review I posted to Amazon):
Don Camillo is a priest whose constitutional tendency is to “call a spade a spade,” and the most frequent targets of his fiery sermons (not to mention his occasional well-aimed blows) are the local Communists. Their equally fiery leader, Peppone, is a plain man of good conscience who once fought against the Fascists alongside Don Camillo but who now fights against the big priest for the hearts and souls of the people in their unnamed Po Valley town. Don Camillo, however, is able to draw on a Resource that his opponents’ ideology denies them, and in his conversations with Christ (Who answers back) he carries on the most crucial battle of all: the struggle within himself to love and care for those whose politics he opposes.

Yes, the skirmishes are exaggerated, and perhaps the deck is always stacked in favor of the Christians, but The Little World manages to avoid being a one-dimensional political cartoon. Indeed, it manages to avoid being easily classifiable at all. The humor’s just a little too tough for whimsy, but has far too much heart for satire. Theologically, Guareschi is stubbornly Christian, yet the unorthodox tales are hardly standard devotional literature. Even the book’s structure is hard to pin down. Is The Little World a story collection? a novel? a story collection posing as a novel? A case can be made for each of those options, I think. What’s always clear, though, is that, however you pigeonhole it in the end, the book is a delight.

Chapter Synopses (not too spoiler-ish, I hope):

  • How I Got This Way (UK: How I Got Like This) — In which we meet the author and learn about his mustaches
  • The Little World — A comment about the setting, and a disclaimer regarding the characterizations
  • A Confession — In which we meet outspoken Don Camillo, looking to avenge an attack by an unknown leftist
  • A Baptism — The mayor wants his son baptized “Lenin”; Don Camillo tries to “persuade” him otherwise.
  • On the Trail — Hotheaded Peppone may have rushed into danger; will Don Camillo forgive him an earlier offense and help?
  • Night School (UK: Evening School) — Peppone needs help with his grammar, but Don Camillo has his own request.
  • Out of Bounds — The Communists go to church; then, an unlikely pair of poachers has a narrow escape.
  • The Treasure — Peppone has begun constructing the “People’s Palace,” but where did he get the money?
  • Rivalry — When a loudspeaker broadcasting a Party rally is aimed right at the church, Don Camillo retaliates.
  • Crime and Punishment — Tension between Don Camillo and the Reds escalates, and Don Camillo is briefly exiled.
  • The Return to the Fold (UK: Return to the Fold) — The Reds don’t consider Don Camillo’s replacement a worthy adversary.
  • The Defeat — The inauguration of Don Camillo’s Recreation Center is celebrated with a soccer match against the Reds.
  • The Avenger — The local boxing champ is unfairly defeated, but a mysterious man enters the ring to defend the town’s honor.
  • Nocturne with Bells — Biondo demands absolution for an old sin, but Don Camillo won’t be coerced.
  • Men and Beasts — During a strike, Don Camillo enlists a reluctant ally to save the neglected cattle of La Grande farm.
  • The Procession — The Reds decide to boycott the annual Procession and blessing of the river.
  • The Meeting — A speaker from the Liberal Party comes to town, and Peppone has a magnificent moment.
  • On the River Bank — Don Camillo goes for a swim, followed by a stroll through a mine-field.
  • Raw Material — The Bishop comes to town, and Peppone orders a reception of “dignified indifference.”
  • The Bell — Don Camillo persuades a stingy capitalist to donate money for a worthy project.
  • Fear — A man is killed in retaliation for an imagined political offence; tension increases.
  • The Fear Spreads (UK: The Fear Continues) — Don Camillo’s life is threatened for what he knows about the murder.
  • To Men of Goodwill (UK: Men of Goodwill) — Christmas approaches, and Peppone and Don Camillo speak heart-to-heart.

More about The Little World tomorrow…