Born in London in 1954, Louis de Bernières first set his sights on joining the Army. However after four months at Sandhurst, he dropped out to go to university. He held various jobs, after taking a diploma in education, including mechanic, gardener and motorcycle messenger.
De Bernières found his inspiration for his first three novels while teaching English in Colombia. The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts (1990), Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord (1991) and The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman (1992) are at once both wildly humorous and deeply tragic tales that draw on the South American tradition of magic realism, in particular the work of Gabriel García Marquez. The brilliance of the three novels was recognized when Granta declared de Bernières one of the top 20 young British novelists in 1993.
Captain Correlli's Mandolin was a slow burn success. The book's popularity built through word of mouth. The mixture of idyllic romance and stark historical tragedy was a powerful recipe which eventually brought the book iconic status and led to it being quoted in wedding ceremonies all over Britain. At the end of the movie Notting Hill, Hugh Grant is seen reading a copy. Translated into 30 languages, the book became a world bestseller. It has also transformed the tourism industry in Kefalonia.
Not everyone was delighted by the novel, however. Many Greeks felt that the savage portrayal of the communist partisans was unfair and inaccurate. Though the author has admitted this aspect may have been flawed, he is alleged to have said of his Greek critics, "How long are you people going to sit in the dark in an air-pocket, wanking each other off?” (Guardian Unlimited).
In 2001, a film was made of Captain Correlli's Mandolin, starring Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz, and directed by John Madden. Although lavishly made, it was generally considered disappointing and weak. The author was reported to have hated the adaptation, saying, "It would be impossible for a parent to be happy about its baby's ears being put on backwards."
Louis de Bernières has since written Birds Without Wings (2004), about the genocide and forced migration in Anatolia in the early twentieth century, and A Partisan's Daughter (2008) about wartime Yugoslavia . He has also written an introduction to the Book of Job, and a short novel based on his travel in Australia, Red Dog.
He plays the mandolin and guitar with the flute group, The Antonius Players.
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