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Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War Paperback – June 2, 1997
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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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Top Customer Reviews
Faulks's principal attraction for me is that he, more than most contemporary writers of literary fiction, tells a story without resorting to trendy and confusing narrative devices. Furthermore, he creates some riveting scenes and his characters are appealing, albeit usually a little odd or idiosyncratic.
Though three of the novel's seven parts are set in the late 1970's, and the lengthy first part in 1910, BIRDSONG is a World War I novel. Its central character, Stephen Wraysford, is a lieutenant in the British Army. He survives the mechanical slaughter of the First Day of the Battle of the Somme (July 1, 1916), and then also the Battle of Messines (June 1917). There are graphic scenes of the war of the trenches and the horrors of going over the top and attacking entrenched German machine guns behind barbed wire that, despite the glib assurances of the high command, has not been cut by the preliminary artillery bombardment. Those sorts of scenes, of course, are a staple of World War I fiction; Faulks handles them better than most. More unusual are BIRDSONG's episodes of subterranean war -- the miners and sappers tunneling towards and under the enemy's lines and planting huge explosive devices. The extended scene at the end of the novel where Wraysford and another major character, a miner named Jack Firebrace, are trapped for days in a tunnel that has been collapsed by German explosives is one of the most harrowing scenes I have encountered in my recent reading.
There are plenty of memorable descriptions. Here's one, as night sets at the end of that bloody first day of the Battle of the Somme (when the British incurred 57,000 casualties): "The earth began to move. To their right a man who had lain still since the first attack eased himself upright, then fell again when his damaged leg would not take his weight. Other single men moved, and began to come up like worms from their shellholes, limping, crawling, dragging themselves out. Within minutes the hillside was seething with the movement of the wounded as they attempted to get themselves back to their line. * * * It was like a resurrection in a cemetery twelve miles long."
But, in the end, the birds sing, and life goes on. (If I ever re-read BIRDSONG I will make note of every reference to the singing of birds.) And there are the joys of innocent children and the hope of the birth of babes.
In addition to war, there also is love -- or at least the subtitle of the novel so proclaims. To me, the two (or is it three? or maybe even four?) love affairs of BIRDSONG pale in comparison to the war story.
I liked "Birdsong" very much, however, it was a book that I kept putting down and picking-up later to continue reading. It wasn't so captivating that I couldn't wait to see what happened next. Although it was highly recommended to me by a friend, it didn't pull me in as I thought it might. At this point, I'm glad I read it to get a deeper sense of how devastating WWI was for all parties involved. That was priceless information for which I am grateful considering the impact it had on our world and so many individual lives and families.
Gritty and realistic, if you've ever wondered what life in WWI was like, this book transports you to the front line. Have you ever wondered why a certain friend or relative refuses to talk about a war in which they participated, this book will tell you why. Crazy thing war, horrible, misleading, deadly and hellish but so many return again and again to the front lines and the action, and once more this book will tell you why. After the horrors of war and the things the young men see and do, society, love and life is never the same. It's so very hard to connect with anyone else when you've been through it all.
Even though this book has a dash of love and a lot of war, it's a tender story of a man who was orphaned when young and led a wandering life, he had a strong will to survive and to perhaps, feel love again.
While the mortars are going off, Stephen's granddaughter in the future is searching for him as his story unfolds. His notebooks are all she has to go on and they are in secret code which has to be cracked if she is to know anything about this mysterious man whom she never met. And as his life unfolds, we witness the accounts of tunneling, and trench warfare of the first world war.
Highly recommend - for those who wish to learn about what has gone before and how high the cost of our freedom was.
Stephen Wraysford is the hero but he’s a bit of an anti-hero. He’s young and passionate. He’s weird and quiet. He loses his passion throughout the war but works hard to do his job, and job that would be difficult for most people to fathom performing unless they were there themselves. The author writes with such emotion and leads you to believe that he really was there on the battlefields and in the trenches. The dramatic tension is amped up by anyone who knows World War I history. The reader who knows which battles are coming up will be struck with a particular horror, knowing the ending before the characters do.
I had a problem with the end of the book that keeps me from giving it five stars. And I really wanted to give it five stars. Not the ending itself; I’m satisfied with how the plot tied itself up. But the last couple of paragraphs. The point-of-view changed to a character that I don’t feel deserved it.
For me, this was a summer read for lazy afternoons in the hot sun, but it’s definitely worth reading anytime. Love, war, and history, it will appeal to many.