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Birds Without Wings Paperback – June 28, 2005
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"Stunning. . . . Haunting. . . . Both exotically remote and tragically relevant. . . . So much is remarkable about this novel, from the heft of its history to the power of its legends. . . . A deeply rewarding work." --The Anchorage Press"Armies march, populations flee, and mountains of corpses lie rotting, the landscapes of horror brought fully to our imaginations in terms so visceral we could weep. . . . One of the most profound and moving books you're likely to read." --The New Zealand Herald
From the Back Cover
- Item Weight : 15.7 ounces
- Paperback : 576 pages
- ISBN-10 : 9781400079322
- ISBN-13 : 978-1400079322
- Dimensions : 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
- Publisher : Vintage; Reprint edition (June 28, 2005)
- Language: : English
- ASIN : 1400079322
- Best Sellers Rank: #92,057 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Suffice to say, I did savor the irony, and the way the author went full circle with the characters. For instance, Rustem Bey disowns his cheating wife, who in the end has no-where to go but to the local house of prostitution. He then travels great lengths to look for a Circassian virgin, and ends up buying a mistress who is not at all what she seems. Then, back again to his wife… I love the all the subtleties that surround the characters and change them. The whole story is ironic, the fact that one set of Greeks are asked to return to Greece and are replaced with anther set of Greeks. The war has that satiric vibe that happens so often in real life wars in that what is being replaced is often just a rehashing of what was. It makes one question why wars are fought at all, which is the point. The author addresses that the enemy could be anyone, including one of your own. It all gets so caustic that it is counter-productive, in the end the boarders and the names of geographic places change. Some people stay, some go, more come and replace, so many lives are lost only to end up at the start.
There are not many books that could compare to the level of writing and prose story telling. De Bernieres is a master of the full picture, his characters appear real, have weaknesses, and grow. This is a book that will stay with me and has greatly affected my psyche. At times it was painful, and depressing, yet captured the humor and irony found in life, even after all the death.
The novel would be construed by most as historical fiction. And the history is first rate. The reader learns of the political and religious issues of the early 20th century in an area of the globe just beginning to enter the world stage. But it's for the intimate portraits of the characters in that world you should read this book. Fans of "Corelli's Mandolin" will get a small bit of that novel's back story. Highly recommended.
Halfway through the book I felt that De Bernieres was about to punch me in the gut, to hit me with a single, devastating event, but he is much more subtle than that. Instead of a punch I felt a weight of sadness that slowly grew, with each small revelation, into the certainty that none of these characters' lives would end well.
It's important to remember that while this is a novel and the individual stories it tells are born of the author's imagination, the book is based on the real and terrible brutality of the Great War and its lasting aftermath (lasting even today). Read it with that knowledge in mind.
Top reviews from other countries
The territorial and political ambitions of the Great Powers, the rise of nationalism, the necrotising virus of fanatical religious movements insidiously ate away at the entire society. Yet even in the darkest hours and most scarifying passages of this wonderful story, there are threads of kindness, mutual respect, gentle nostalgia and blessedly benign humour shining through. This is a book, in the end, about how we are doomed to repeat mistakes and atrocities again and again, because we are birds without wings. Yet the impulse to fly remains within us, and our spirits, ever unconquerable, continue to rise to higher ideals and hopes of a better, more compassionate world. If you read only one book this year, make it this one. It should be on the curriculum of every higher education institution in the world
This is strongly contrasted by the rapid pace of political change in the narratives centred on Mustafa Kemal, of which the village inhabitants are blissfully unaware, and become tragic victims of political machinations that ultimately leave them devastated and both socially and economically impoverished.
I found the atrocities of war and its effect on those you had learned to care about particularly hard to read, and I frequently had to take a break from this book to build up the strength to read more of the horrors and sadness (the really explicit sections I'm afraid I had to skim read, as I found the images difficult to shake off). The ravaged community ultimately learns to adapt to a new "normal", but this could only be seen as making the best of a bad situation, and you mourn the loss of community they once shared.
I found it very hard to follow the political developments, the pace was so fast and involved such a huge cast of characters, and my knowledge of geography is pretty poor. I found it even harder to work out the relative timescales, ie how the political developments related to the slow pace of life in the village, but I decided to let this wash over me and took it at face value to no great ill effect. The speed of these developments and total disregard for how it impacted on the civilian population maintained a deeply uncomfortable tension throughout the book, another reason I occasionally had to take a break.
This is a period of political history and a part of the world I knew very little about, so the book was very informative in that regard, and I feel somewhat ashamed that I was so unaware of such horrific upheaval. The personal ambition and ideology of the powerful few has a lot to answer for in the ills of this world, which this book so painfully illustrates.
However, it was beautifully written, both in its affection and detail, and in its starkness, and it's a book I would thoroughly recommend, albeit with a warning about the explicit violence for those of even a slightly delicate disposition.
The best part of the book to me was that it was fair about all sides. I think other people whose roots go back to the Ottoman Empire can relate, there is still the wave of "*we* were always right, *they* were always wrong and cruel" among Turks, Greeks, Armenians, Arabs, and all the other groups in the empire. Some people believe that to this date, I guess they want to believe, but it is far from reality. By today's standards our ancestors had some twisted beliefs and traditions. And very much like we can say about any and every group in the world, some people within the same group were better than the others, some people within the same groups were just horrible. Very early on in the book I was annoyed by the misogyny and felt glad I was not born yet back then. You grow sympathy towards the characters and then you see that they do something which would be unacceptable today. The characters were realistic for that era and under the circumstances of war.
"Don't go!" people scream, sobbing, when their neighbors are being taken away. The people they grew up with, their friends, neighbors. I don't know if I got softer, or if it's because I grew up in a region in Istanbul that was quite multicultural with Greek-descent and Armenian-descent Christians, and also with Jewish neighbors. Birds Without Wings was the first ever book that made me literally cry. To imagine my friends and older neighbors go away like that is something I never want to imagine. This is a must-read for every Turk, Greek, Armenian and all the others whose families were once a part of the Ottoman Empire. It will be a reality check it was not just all wars, it was not one side enjoyed pleasures and the other sides suffered. It was all. Some people were friends, some were enemies, we all sometimes enjoyed the pleasures, we all sometimes suffered. Not to forget Brits, Anzacs, Italians, French and the others who were a part of the WWI. Victor Hugo has once said, "Civil war? What does that mean? is there any foreign war? Isn't every war fought between men, between brothers?" I remembered that quote while I was reading Anzac and Turkish soldiers in Gallipoli feeling upset for the other side. Help each other at times. Hate why they have to do what they have do. I hope never, ever there will be a war like that again and the only books written about wars could be written about the past ones.
The book itself is also a must-read for everyone. There is everything; friendship, love, family relations, neighbor relations, religion, traditions and the struggle with conscience, politics... everything. This was my first book written by Louis de Bernieres and I'm mad at myself for not discovering such a wonderful author earlier. He delivers all the stories in Birds Without Wings beautifully. At first I was a bit annoyed for the lack of translations of the sentences in different languages, but now that I look back, I think this added a good mystery to the story. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is dear to my heart as you can imagine, I was also touched by every chapter about him, although of course being a fiction book not everything was accurate.
I found the structure and style mirrored that of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, with over 100 short chapters jumping between characters and time. This makes it quite difficult to follow, and I found myself a little confused for the first third of the book as I navigated through each of the sub-plots not having the time to fully engage with any.
Once I found my way, I did find myself quite attached to the characters, and by the final third of the book, anxious to see how their journeys would lead. I was also delighted to see Bernières plant a subtle connection to Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which was quite unexpected.
However, I still struggled with the Mustafa Kamal sections, finding that they provided more of a detailed historical commentary and political backdrop, rather than passages of beautiful narrative that I favour in a novel. I, personally, think this could be removed or summarised and the novel wouldn’t suffer for it.
For the story-telling chapters, Bernières writes with elegance and beauty, conveying a tone of sadness that is impossible to articulate. With words like ‘man is a bird without wings...and a bird is a man without sorrow’ I wanted to immerse myself in these chapters and forget about the others in between.
It isn't a light read, but it is an endearing and heart-gripping story that despairs of man's inhumanity to man. But in the darkness of it all, there are sparks of human kindness which give us hope.