Don Camillo

Giovannino Guareschi

My parents had three Don Camillo books — a little surprising, because they were both from a rather anti-papist Dutch Reformed church family, even if they were both Church-leavers, and the Don Camillo books are very Roman-Catholic — and as a teenager I devoured them.

Given the rather rustic depiction of Roman Catholicism, it’s perhaps reason for a slight blush of shame to admit that my own religiosity has been partly, or maybe even significantly, formed by the stories in De Kleine Wereld, Zijn Kudde and Zijn zwarte Schapen
— later I added Basta!, …En toen zei Don Camillo… and In Rusland. I’ve never seen the movies, but the Dutch editions have wonderful pen-and-ink illustrations by Karel Thole (I should scan them, but I’d need to buy a new scanner first, the illustrations are better than anything you can find on Google.).

Anyway, on the occasion of my father cleaning out his library, I got charge of the volumes on his shelves, and I already had the rest myself. I started re-reading them. They withstood the test of the time. I nowadays see that they are far stronger anti-communist propaganda than I ever through before — when I read them they had a cartoon-like quality for me with some added moralizing (which I don’t consider a swear-word). The oldest stories are the best, and Basta is really weak — it’s translated into English as Don Camillo Meets the Flower Children — and nomen est omen.

I still feel they give me a convincing impression of Italian post-war life — and the stories are still witty in a mild, not outrageous way. Not every story has a happy ending, but most have. And I still like the Christ-on-the-Cross who most often tells Don Camillo to think for himself and keeps mum when he want Don Camillo to figure something out. As Naomi told me, “Jesus isn’t at all helpful! He never says anything direct! Why doesn’t he just tell Don Camillo what to do?”

Which occasioned a spirited discussion on free will… In any case, at ten years old, she is probably the right age to start reading them, and in fact, she’s devoured two of the books already.