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Sunday, January 10, 1999 Published at 11:58 GMT

World: Europe

From joy to heartbreak

Romance blossomed in the port town of Patras

The BBC's Paul Wood reports from Athens

The story of an Italian man and a Greek woman who rekindled a wartime romance after more than half-a-century has had a tragic ending.

Their tale mirrors the current bestseller, Captain Correlli's Mandolin, by Louis de Bernières.

The real-life couple were to have been married in two weeks but the story has a sad conclusion not found in the book.

[ image: There are parallels with this best-selling novel]
There are parallels with this best-selling novel
The almost unbearably poignant story of Angeliki Stratigou and Luigi Surace began in August 1941, when he was sent to the Greek city of Patras with the Italian occupation forces.

They fell in love and he promised to marry her when the war was over. After a year his regiment was posted away from Greece, but when the war ended he wrote to Miss Stratigou.

She was living with her aunt, who disapproved of the affair between her niece and an enemy soldier. Her aunt secretly intercepted the letters and destroyed them.

After three years without a reply to his steady stream of letters, Mr Surace stopped writing. He married, but when his wife died in 1996 he began searching for Miss Stratigou.

He wrote to the mayor of Patras, who managed to locate her living in another part of the city. She had never married.

Tragedy strikes

Fifty-six years on the two were reunited on St Valentine's Day last year. Mr Surace, now aged 77, proposed marriage and Miss Strategou, aged 79, accepted.

Their wedding was to have been in two weeks' time, but Miss Stratigou fell ill suddenly and died on Saturday.

All this bears uncanny similarities to the best-selling novel, "Captain Corelli's Mandolin".

In the book by Louis de Bernières an Italian officer falls in love with a Greek girl and conducts a clandestine romance.

As with Mr Surace and Miss Stragigou, they don't marry, but in life, as in art, they are reunited after decades of separation.

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