- Paperback: 496 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (June 2, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679776818
- ISBN-13: 978-0679776819
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (443 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #43,935 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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 alternate Paperback edition.
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Top customer reviews
First, the spice!
It opens with a hot and heavy soft porn section, which might cause some sensitive Romance readers to be offended because the author dares to reveal the idea physical sex between adults involves genitals (graphically described); and some literary readers (like me) to feel the dialogue is terrible stuff, being unrealistic, exaggerated for dramatic effect, and too quickly intimate and candidly revealing for a developing love affair in an era of drawing room manners. It was a bit like, "Hi, I'm Isabelle Azaire. My husband is a boring lover and he is an old man of 40 that looks 50 with an aging body, but he is turning mean because he has decided our sex life is my fault and I'm bored with my life because I'm only 27 and although I love his children from a previous marriage it's not enough. Want a cup of tea?" "Hello, I'm Stephen Wraysford and I'm an 20-year-old impoverished ex-con with no education, skills, family or money. Want to run away with me? I know you are the one from the first second of meeting you. I'll love you forever." "How thrilling! You are the hottest thing in bed I've ever had! Let's go!" Although the writing about how Stephen and Isabelle relate to each other is pure soap opera stupid, the rest of '1910' is beautifully written. The Azaire family and their best friends are vividly drawn. Wraysford's innocence and passion are established, as well as the fact he is an honorable, normal youth whose indiscretions are based on his poverty and parentless upbringing.
I found the first third of the novel tedious, a two-star grade at best. But most of the rest of of the book is five star, no reservations at all.
Stephen was certainly in lust with Isabelle, he may even have been in love, fantasy driven as it was. (Men are much more basic when young - want eat now, want sleep now, want fast car now, want sex now... - ; ) If you satisfy their basic needs they will fall in actual love. For awhile.) It's a fortunate thing because this incident in his life sustains him through what may arguably be the worst modern war of the Western world, even understanding that every war is full of unspeakable horrors.
Still with me? Sorry if that seemed harsh. I'm old, you know. Some of us turn sour after a lifetime of disappointments in human nature.
War can add depth to a participant's understanding, or it can freeze everything in amber, like stopping time, so a war veteran might be a permanent 18-year old emotionally even when they are 50 years old. It can wipe out almost all emotion within a person, leaving behind only depression, misplaced rage and bad memories which overlay their lives forever. It can cause a permanent emotional numbing, a complete inability to enjoy or anticipate good things in the future. As psychology is well understood by the average Western citizen today, I know I don't need to really describe these responses to you. However, the why war survivors have these problems we usually tiptoe around, not wanting to explore whatever horrors caused a person's PTSD. This is not a lack of empathy or curiosity, this is self-preservation. Once war is fully experienced, whether in actual fact or only vicariously, it reduces the level of joy one can feel. Never again will the lightness of being that most children are born with will still be felt.
If you wish to experience as vivid and realistic of a war as if you were there, in the trenches of WWI in this case, Sebastian Faulks could not make it happen any more real than he did in this novel unless he hooked up a virtual reality chip directly into your brain. Parts 1917/1918 are the most fantastic war writing I've ever read. It's incredibly awful and incredibly beautiful. The suffering, starving, lice and filth, the miles of walking and lack of sleep on poor quality food and very little water, the heat, the noise, the shocking deaths of friends inches from you, the blood and body parts - and it has no end, but continues for years and years. The pay is lousy and any second you could die, yet despite the continuous fear and stress, your brain must somehow be alert enough to do your job, when mostly all you want is to become dead without the pain. However, there is glory in knowing your fellow soldiers, their willing sacrifices for you, and the inexplicable bravery which is pulled out of you, as well as the amazing strengths you find you have in wanting to live when you had wanted to die a second before.
It's all alive and real in the reading, as if you were Wraysford. He was not a fictional character while I read this. I was in his head, feeling his life.
Whew! I will not be forgetting this book.
Nineteen seventy-eight introduces us to a relative of the people we've been reading about in 1910, Elizabeth Benson. She is a modern woman of London and she has a mild desire for marriage because she would like to have kids. But she wavers at losing her independence. She has a great job and can support herself, which is possible because society no longer forces women to stay home. Her boyfriend is married with children and works in another country.
A series of circumstances leads her to research WWI and her grandfather's service in France. She is almost completely unaware of the nature of war, but especially WWI is unknown to her. Her research becomes more determined as she realizes what an amazing thing it is what ordinary young men and boys went through, and never talked about if they survived, and what the war cost them in shortened lives and broken relationships, mostly unrecognized, unrewarded and forgotten.
If this book consisted of the 1917-1918 sections alone, I would be jumping up and down, thrusting this novel into the hands of all my friends pleading with them to read this next, please. But it had the pasted up and unconvincing section of Isabelle's and Stephen's affair, which frankly, had me almost abandoning the book. Benson's sections were better, but I felt unnecessary to the story. In my opinion, I think this was a Great War Novel originally, but somewhere somehow a decision was made to increase its commercial value by adding a doomed love affair. Since the added-in affair and the genealogical search by a granddaughter seemed more of a naked play for literary readers who have been reading similar award-winning books with these same elements, instead of a heart-wrenching war story, I felt as if I were reading a clone, of lesser dimensions, of previous literary books built up with the same issues.
The title Birdsong is very cool and very likely full of meaning. Actual birdsong is a delight to hear, sometimes achingly so. It can induce the same feelings that hearing a distant train can. I had fun when I finished the novel, while drying my tears after the last page, trying to figure out why this awful romance gorgeous war novel had been given this title. Feel free to offer suggestions.
"Wilt thou be gone? It is not yet near day.
It was the nightingale, and not the lark
That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear."
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.
Most recent customer reviews
I liked "Birdsong" very much, however, it was a book that I kept putting down and picking-up later to continue reading.Read more