Don Camillo Tarocci (his full name which he rarely uses) is a big priest of an otherwise unnamed village in the Po river valley in northern Italy. He is constantly at odds with a communist mayor Peppone (Giuseppe Bottazzi) but also in very close terms with the crucifix in his village church. Through the crucifix he hears the voice he recognizes as the voice of Christ.
What Peppone and Camillo have in common is the interest in the well being of the village (they also appear to have been both anti-fascist). Therefore they sometimes end up working together in peculiar circumstance – constantly squabbling, of course. And Peppone takes his gang to the church and baptizes his children there which makes him part of don Camillo’s flock.
The Christ in the crucifix often has much more understanding for the foibles of the people than Don Camillo and has to constantly but gently reprimand the priest for his impatience. Camillo does lose his temper in occasion and could even use a bench as a club. He is twice reprimanded for his behavior by the church.
According to Guareschi, priests could broke their staffs on his back for Camillo and communists kick him blue for Peppone but the Christ’s voice came from his conscience.
Many stories are satirical takes on real-world political divide between Italian Catholic Church and Italian communist party – not to mention other worldly politics. Other tales are tragedies about schism, politically motivated murder and personal vendettas in a small village where everyone knows everyone else.
Sometimes the village is in trouble for the very real world floods of the Po river. Often either Camillo or Peppone tries to get an upper hand – but results may be unexpected. Or the village gets a visitor – politician, cardinal or even youngsters from a rival village which usually bring their own problems.
Once Don Camillo visits Soviet Union pretending to be a comrade. And when the pop culture and motorcycles arrive, Don Camillo has his hands full – especially when the Christ mainly smiles benevolently on the young rascals.
First Don Camillo story appeared in Guareschi’s satire magazine Candido in 1946. The stories were also made into a movie series starring Fernandel and Gino Cervi.
Two additional English-language short story collections: