Like Don Camillo’s Dilemma before it, the fourth Don Camillo book in English isn’t a translation of any particular Italian book, but rather a collection assembled specially for Guareschi’s Anglophone audience. And like an even earlier book in the DC series, it’s one whose American and British editions differ slightly from each other.  

Don Camillo Takes the Devil by the Tail, by Giovanni Guareschi.
Copyright Giovanni Guareschi, 1957. Translated by Frances Frenaye. NEW YORK: Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy; 1957. First published in Great Britain by Victor Gollancz, Ltd., in 1957 under the title Don Camillo and the Devil.


Don Camillo and Peppone may be pushing 60 (and Guareschi lets us see that they’ve aged), but they continue to fight their battles with the same vigor that they’ve displayed over the course of the previous three books. Intruders to the Little World — from an unwanted curate with too many ideas, to Party bosses determined to de-Stalinize the village — are dispatched with the usual efficiency by the dynamic duo, who have each apparently decided that it’s better the devil you know…

According to Alberto Guareschi, the book’s title is based on that of one of the stories in the collection (which can only be “The Devil Swishes his Tail”). Anyone know whether “to take the devil by the tail” is an English-language idiom on its own (on the order of “to take the bull by the horns”)? Idiom or not, it was still considered an unweildy title by the UK editor, who went with the simpler Don Camillo and the Devil.

As with Don Camillo and his Flock, the US edition of this one not only sports a slightly different title than the UK one, but also contains a little more text. There are two more stories in the American version, and they seem to me to be up to the quality of the rest — so, unless there was a number-of-pages restriction, I can’t figure why the British edition would leave out “The Chest of Drawers” and “The Snowstorm.” Adding to the differences between the two versions, UK publisher Gollancz places “The War of the Carnations” at the end of the book, after “A Speech to Go Down in History” (which concludes the US version — see below). Again, I don’t see an advantage one way or the other; they’re both good stories, and either works as a closing.

Chapter Synopses:

  • Operation Saint Babila — Someone has sent a saint’s statue to the bottom of the river…
  • Peppone’s Pilgrimage — On a misty, mid-November afternoon, a desperate father carries his sick child to a place of Help.
  • The New Look — Stalin is yesterday’s hero, but Peppone’s not ready to let go of the past.
  • The Case of the Disappearing Dog — Don Camillo’s dog Thunder has disappeared, and Smilzo knows more than he’s telling.
  • Victims of War — Milco cannot face the annual visit of Sergeant Fritz’ widow.
  • Stranded in the Stratosphere — Don Camillo and Peppone have a wild ride on a carnival carousel.
  • The Rains Came — Peppone blames the world’s weather patterns on American atomic energy.
  • Made in U.S.S.R. — Don Camillo gets a new film projector; then Peppone one-ups him with a Russian-made television.
  • Inflation in the Po Valley — There’s trouble when several of the village’s most prominent citizens buy on the installment plan.
  • The Devil Swishes His Tail — The Michaelmas carnival site is too close to the church, but can Peppone afford to move it?
  • Ring out the Old, Ring in the New — Don Camillo is assigned the renovation of an old church; will it become his new parish?
  • The New Curate — The new curate, Don Gildo, is full of ideas, but Don Camillo would rather he thought with his feet.
  • The Champion — Not even for the sake of the village’s honor can cycling expert Renzo be persuaded to go on a TV quiz show.
  • The Carburetor — Peppone is galled by the publicity over a sick Italian child saved with American medicine.
  • The Closed Gate — Marco Stocci is haunted by his too-harsh treatment of his daughter Gisa.
  • Lullaby — In Peppone’s household and others, politics divides husband and wife.
  • Togo the Bull — A bull is felled by a machine-gun, but who fired it?
  • A Poacher’s Penance — To fulfill a New Year’s pledge, Don Camillo’s got to come up with 22 game birds to give to the poor.
  • An Exchange of Courtesies — How far will Don Camillo go not to purchase anything from the People’s Co-operative?
  • The War of the Carnations — In this story, “Romeo and Juliet” meets O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.”
  • The Chest of Drawers (US edition only) — Don Camillo and Peppone help divide the widow Noemi’s estate among her greedy descendents.
  • The Snowstorm (US edition only) — The snow weighs heavy on the roof of the People’s Palace.
  • A Speech to Go Down in History — The election is coming, and Peppone has lost the text of his big speech.