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Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War Paperback – June 2, 1997


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (June 2, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679776818
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679776819
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.1 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (344 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,710 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Readers who are entranced by the sweeping Anglo sagas of Masterpiece Theatre will devour Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks's historical drama. A bestseller in England, there's even a little high-toned erotica thrown into the mix to convince the doubtful. The book's hero, a 20-year-old Englishman named Stephen Wraysford, finds his true love on a trip to Amiens in 1910. Unfortunately, she's already married, the wife of a wealthy textile baron. Wrayford convinces her to leave a life of passionless comfort to be at his side, but things do not turn out according to plan. Wraysford is haunted by this doomed affair and carries it with him into the trenches of World War I. Birdsong derives most of its power from its descriptions of mud and blood, and Wraysford's attempt to retain a scrap of humanity while surrounded by it. There is a simultaneous description of his present-day granddaughter's quest to read his diaries, which is designed to give some sense of perspective; this device is only somewhat successful. Nevertheless, Birdsong is an unflinching war story that is bookended by romances and a rewarding read.

From Publishers Weekly

In 1910, England's Stephen Wraysford, a junior executive in a textile firm, is sent by his company to northern France. There he falls for Isabelle Azaire, a young and beautiful matron who abandons her abusive husband and sticks by Stephen long enough to conceive a child. Six years later, Stephen is back in France, as a British officer fighting in the trenches. Facing death, embittered by isolation, he steels himself against thoughts of love. But despite rampant disease, harrowing tunnel explosions and desperate attacks on highly fortified German positions, he manages to survive, and to meet with Isabelle again. The emotions roiled up by this meeting, however, threaten to ruin him as a soldier. Everything about this novel, which was a bestseller in England, is outsized, from its epic, if occasionally ramshackle, narrative to its gruesome and utterly convincing descriptions of battlefield horrors. Faulks (A Fool's Alphabet) proves himself a grand storyteller here. Enlivened with considerable historical detail related through accomplished prose, his narrative flows with a pleasingly appropriate recklessness that brings his characters to dynamic life.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

One of the best reads ever, magnificent book.
Jean gould
Faulks style is realistic but he is also strong in setting scenes with detail and poetic evocation of the distant time covered by the story.
C. M Mills
When you don't want a book to end and it stays with you for a long time after reading it, you know you have found a wonderful read.
Lea Darwin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

144 of 149 people found the following review helpful By Andy Capaloff on February 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks, is as good a book as I've ever read. It's imagery is most stunning and so real, I found myself thinking that I had seen the unmade movie some weeks after having finished the book.
It begins with an offbeat love story - no mush - that is captivating even for one who doesn't read romance novels.
When the war scenes begin, you are initially upset that the romance portion has ended. But this is the heart of the book. To give too many details would be a disservice to potential readers. I can say, however, that the graphic descriptions of bunker life have you wondering just how much the human mind and body can endure.
The characters are very real and you certainly feel, while reading, that you are indeed Stephen Wraysford, the central character.
You feel pleasure, joy, horror and revolt as surely as if you were within the pages. At one point, I felt the physical sensation of touch, as Stephen was experiencing a particularly wrenching moment.
When this book is over, you are upset. You want it to last longer. You never want it to end!
This is an important and brilliant novel. Truly a masterpiece. Those to whom I have recommended this book have all started with a skepticism. Surely I was raving. Each has thanked me and echoed my enthusiasm.
To sum up the entire book in 2 words I would proclaim loud and strong "READ THIS!"
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77 of 78 people found the following review helpful By S. E. Kennedy on January 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book entered my world through recommendation from an author friend. I opened it with no previous adventures into the realm of WWI and no knowledge of the author. I was immediately intrigued and immediately a fan of Sebastian Faulks! I struggle to review this book without telling you the story line. Therefore, I am not going to tell you an overview of the plot - you need to experience it as it unfolds. I will, instead, tell you the impact of this novel.

Mr. Faulks' writing is so intimate that I was almost embarrased during the love scenes as if I had intruded upon the lovers in their throws of passion. The bitter sweet moments of love found and love lost are feelings that reverberate through time. They were as agonizing to read as if I was experiencing them myself. As the story moves forward and Stephan is at front lines of WWI, I was again amazed at the detail of the story. I can scarce believe that Mr. Faulks was not the actually Stephen Wraysford in a previous life. His vivid depiction of the horrors of war are troubling yet poignont. The friendships among the men, the shared commonality of their situation, the reality of death and the difficulty they had expressing ANY emotion was painful to read. You want to reach out to them and rescue them from the danger of death - and equally so from the agony of life.

Now - flash forward to the 1970s as the generation who experienced the trenches are dying off. A young woman - about my age - with as little knowledge of the war as I previously had - seeks information about her grandfather. Her quest leads her to uncover a family secret, a forgotten generation, a personal desire for true love, and the knowledge that life goes on. 1917, 1978 or 2005 - Sebastian Faulks shows that we all desire love, we all struggle to cope with our personal demons, and we all wonder what we will leave the world to remember us by. This book may be set in the past - but it is truly timeless in its message.
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43 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Justin on May 21, 2007
Format: Paperback
The best war-based fiction I've possibly ever read. Birdsong begins as a love story. The young Englishman lives with a business partner's family in France while on assignment and falls in love with his wife and manages to steal her away. From there the book destroys said main character, Stephen, with the unreliability of love and the horror of war. Faulks' characterization is brilliant and lacks any easy answers from any character involved. Weir, Stephen, Gray, Jeanne, Isabelle, and the rest of the cast are all complex and thoughtful. The brutality that becomes Stephen's life is slow-building. His affair with Isabelle seems dreamlike before her own complications take her away. He survives the war just barely (in fact, this part of the book may have been taken too far as Stephen survives **SPOILER** the battle Somme, being left for dead, shot, another major battle, and being trapped for a week buried underground in a tunnel**END SPOILER**) but the pure unsentimentality of the descriptions of war and the horror that Stephen sees and endures make the story both believable and poignant. As Stephen attempts to survive mental collapse through-out a life of endured brutality, the depression of the novel becomes almost overwhelming and the reader finds his or her small moments of happiness in hope in the same small moments and acts that Stephen does. Only criticism of the book is the character of Elizabeth who ties the book to semi-modern times (still 30 years ago) was a bit irritating at times but she still serves her purpose quite well of giving the author a way to address greater themes of Stephen's life and setting.

Simply a great book and modern classic that will make one want to read more of Faulks and of The Great War itself.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By JMS on October 17, 2004
Format: Paperback
I read this book for the first time at its initial publication... cover to cover in one sitting,and have re-read it twice since then. Each time has been as riveting as the first, although I find that with each re-reading my understanding of the characters grows, and I find something new about each one of them every time. In addition, the trenches scenes still have me gripped, horrified and mesmerised no less than 10 years ago.

The story begins in Amiens, with the main character Steven Wraysford being drawn into a passionate and steamy love affair with the wife of his landlord. This erotic but doomed relationship gives way to the second part of the novel - Steven in the trenches in WW1 - the Great (or Not So Great)War. The account of war is harrowing and yet mesmerising, and I found myself simultaneously horrified by the gritty and stark imagery,and moved to tears by the spare and lucid prose. The third part of the novel describes Steven's grandaughter, Elizabeth, on her quest to find out more about her grandfather's life.

Many reviewers have commented that they found the third part meaningless and irrelevent. I myself cannot agree. I think the very fact that one generation removed, a close family member knew absolutely nothing about the turn of events, is what brought home the truth of the entire novel to me. I had no idea of what went on in WW1 and this book changed my view of history. I knew that people died, but the horror and sheer waste on such a stupendous scale, the unbelievable meaninglessness of it all, and the fact that it did nothing to stop events just 20 years later, still leaves me speechless. I felt every emotion of Elizabeth's as she stood in that field so many years later, and realised how very little the world knew, or remembered.
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