|Birds Without Wings
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Louis de Berni¨¨res’s last novel, Corelli’s Mandolin, was met with the highest praise: “Behind every page,” said Richard Russo, “we sense its author’s intelligence, wit, heart, imagination, and wisdom. This is a great book.” A. S. Byatt placed the author in “the direct line that runs through Dickens and Evelyn Waugh.” Now, de Berni¨¨res gives us his long-awaited new novel. Huge, resonant, lyrical, filled with humor and pathos, a novel about the political and personal costs of war, and of love–between men and women, between friends, between those who are driven to be enemies.
It is the story of a small coastal town in South West Anatolia in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire told in the richly varied voices of the people–Christians and Muslims of Turkish and Greek and Armenian descent–whose lives are rooted there, intertwined for untold years. There is Iskander, the potter and local font of proverbial wisdom; Karatavuk–Iskander’s son–and Mehmet?ik, childhood friends whose playground stretches across the hills above the town, where Mehmet?ik teaches the illiterate Karatavuk to write Turkish in Greek letters. There are Father Kristoforos and Abdulhamid Hodja, holy men of different faiths who greet each other as “Infidel Efendi”; Rustem Bey, the landlord and protector of the town, whose wife is stoned for the sin of adultery. There is a man known as “the Dog” because of his hideous aspect, who lives among the Lycian tombs; and another known as “the Blasphemer,” who wanders the town cursing God and all of his representatives of all faiths. And there is Philothei, the Christian girl of legendary beauty, courted from infancy by Ibrahim the goatherd–a great love that culminates in tragedy and madness. But Birds Without Wings is also the story of Mustafa Kemal, whose military genius will lead him to victory against the invading Western European forces of the Great War and a reshaping of the whole region.
When the young men of the town are conscripted, we follow Karatavuk to Gallipoli, where the intimate brutality of battle robs him of all innocence. And in the town he left behind, we see how the twin scourges of fanatical religion and nationalism unleashed by the war quickly, and irreversibly, destroy the fabric of centuries-old peace.
Epic in its narrative sweep–steeped in historical fact–yet profoundly humane and dazzlingly evocative in its emotional and sensual detail, Birds Without Wings is a triumph.
From the Hardcover edition.
- One of the Best Books I've Ever Read.
I don't know why I would ever care or be interested in a little Turkish village on the cusp of WWI - but De Bernieres made me care! He created a story I couldn't wait to get back to reading every night. His characters were well constructed and everything about his writing was wonderful; his descriptions, pacing, plot development - you know a great writer when you read one. The themes in the novel of friendship and war are so universally human, to see how they enfold among a small, remote Turkish village was fascinating - mainly because they were so identifiable despite cultural differences. The village's history of peaceful co-existence among different religions/cultures served as a wonderful example of the best part of our humanity; and the war that ended that idyll, the worst part.
All in all - a really engrossing read that I would highly recommend. If you liked "Corelli's Mandolin" - you'll love this....more info
- Good or great?
I don't know, or know how to know, whether this is a good novel or a great novel. What has struck me, reading press reviews, is that critics seem not to have read it properly, carefully.
The author is not stupid. He knows that virtually none of his readers will understand the Turkish words, or indeed some of the effete English words. He also knows of course that you will have to construct your way through this weird narrative--decide what Kemel is doing there, and so on.
This book can make you cry, and you will probably love and care about its characters (such as Rustem Bey, but some others too); and you shouldn't believe the professional critics with their patronizing reviews. They sooooo don't see this book for what it will become, I intuit.
- Did you love Kite Runner? Birds Without Wings should be next on your list.
Someone in my book group suggested we read Birds Without Wings, and I will always be grateful to her. I opened its pages to fall into the world De Bernieres portrays so vividly and even handedly. The villagers go about their lives in a day to day way which De Bernieres portrays with a brilliant minuteness that is a combination of Garcia Marquez and Jane Austen. When the people in the Christian/Muslim/Armenian community suffer tragedy and grief, as sometimes happens in any community, the sorrow is the small kind which life brings. The destruction of the village comes about because of the governments which are supposed to protect it.
The book opens with a portrait of the two holy man, the Muslim imam and the Greek Orthdox priest, working with a mutual respect for each other, each in his own way. It ends with the village torn apart, ruined, the Greeks deported by the Turks, the Armenians murdered, the Turks brutalized by Greek armies. Again and again De Bernieres gives examples of people being kind and good to each other in small ways. The governments are Satan, ruining all with their deals, their wars, unleashing armies of undisciplined soldiers on civilian populations with the remorse of sociopaths.
- Gorgeous Read
Birds Without Wings is much like Bernieres other works: densely populated with interesting characters, beautifully written, with a subject matter that is far flung. At the turn of the 20th century the Ottoman Empire is on its last legs; soon the events of WWI will destroy it forever. Eskabace is a small town somewhere in Anatolia and is populated with the books characters--each one affected by religious strife, empire building, love, marriage and war. Nobody remains unscathed. The story arcs over many years and could have been a slow read except that the author keeps each chapter short with a changing point of view. He writes about a time of great upheaval, not only in Turkey but throughout the world, and neighbor will be pitted against neighbor. Modern Turkey will be forged from the dregs of the old Ottoman Empire and then salvaged from Greek invaders, but all on these people's backs. While this remains in the background it affects each and every character and Bernieres takes his time in developing his themes and characters. If you like a character driven novel, then you can't get better than this one. ...more info
- Thumbs down
This book is highly anti-christian, anti-greek, anti-armenian and highly pro-moslim and pro-turkish. I humbly suggest the author does some more history reading before he serves us with any more erroneous historical books as this is. The author could be a story teller but he most certainly falsifies the existing facts. Not to mention his costant preaching which I found boring to the extreme! I just could not go through this book.
- Beautiful to never ending tragedy
The first part of "Birds Without Wings" is utterly breath-taking. The first part is told by the villagers in a simple town ruled by the Ottoman Empire. It discusses the unease of having both Muslim and Chrsitian fatih co-existed in one area and also the way the faiths themselves intermingal. It speaks of growing up, love, death, illness and the effect of the laws declared by the empire. It speaks of how people, especially the Armenians were dragged off and then brutally murdered once beyond the city walls and what one man did to save as many as he could. It talks of simple daily life and how the rules of both religions played an importnt role.
Then the second part of the novel plunged in to the horrors of war far outside of the town. Hundreds of pages documenting what happened during the allied assult on Turkey during WWI. The entire setup of the village, all of it's people, its way of life are completely wasted. The only connnection is the long narrative of one of the sons who fought in the trench warfare. All beauty, simplicity are lost and the heartbreaking tradgy leaves very few room to breath.
I believe it would have been better to keep the entire story centered on the village itself and showed the effect of the bad choiced of the Ottoman Empire soon to become Turky. That I beleive would have ben a much better choice and fully showed what happened to the commoners during all this time.
As it stands, the book is divided into two parts - the life of villagers and the way that was far removed until the consequences came for them. The book seems disjointed because of this. Also at the end there is no happiness, no sweet moments found at the beginning. All is filled with dispair. By the end you want to wept when Pamuk dies and Rustem Bey loses everything, no on can find any happiness, no tears of joy can by shed for even one fleeting happy moment - even by the reader. ...more info
- 500 great pages, 50 less so
I have read just about every Bernieres book, so evidently I enjoy his writing. I was happy when I heard "Birds" had been published and even happier about the good reviews, since I figured Berniere's beautiful storytelling meshed in a tight plot would make for a memorable experience. I hoped for Corelli's Mandolin redux...
I didn't quite get it. Birds is certainly beautiful. Its got tremendous,refreshingly ambiguous characters, very touching moments, an exciting storyline and an incredibly powerful historical and geographic setting. These elements make it worth the read, and justify the 4 stars.
But the book could have been 50 pages shorter. 15 of these are pages in which Berniere gets preachy; 15 others in which he repeats the points he is preachy about (e.g. religion can be used in incredibly distorted ways...), and 20 in which the book reads like a abridged history text, except for preachiness and oversimplificaton of events.
One final point. The war scenes are fantastic. But I just read "A Long Long Way" by Sebastian Barry, and Barry was so good that Bernieres' excellent depictions were just a bit less moving than they may have been.
Despite these quibbles, Bernieres will continue to be one of my favorite writers, and I will continue looking forward to his new books....more info
- A bird is a man without sorrow
This historical fiction is set in the period of before-after WW I with the main story happened in a small village in Turkey, Eskihbace. Before the war, the village has a peace and prosperous life with its colorful inhabitants: Turks, Greeks, Armenians and all called themselves Ottomans. Never a clash between the religions. On the contrary, religions were only one of the means in life. A Christian woman could marry a Muslim man, follow her husband's faith, but still go to church sometimes. A Muslim neighbor would ask help from a Christian one to pray to the Virgin Mother of Jesus when someone in the family fell ill.
It was all disrupted when Ottoman Empire started to crumble by corruption and the national 'Young Turks' revolution, revolting to take over the government. The chain of events would lead to the famous attack of Turks to Russia and eventually, WW I. Young and able-bodied men were recruited for soldiers and labor battalions. The women and children suffered and became defenseless against brigands and bandits that had increased in number by many desertions. Alongside, the biography of the leader of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was told, a destiny's child with obstreperous nature. He and other big leaders played the big roles in the Great War and Turkey Independence War and made decisions with consequences which affected the life of people in Eskihbace.
In a world so distraught by differences like now, this book is essential to reflect on what had happened in WW I (and WW II) and some unrecorded genocides that were too brutal to be described. It shows that we are like a mythical creature of 1 body but with 2 separate heads that won't look in each other's eyes and have eyes only for the past.
I think it's amazing how the author managed to bring up both Great Wars and tell it from unusual perspective and places. In CORELLI'S MANDOLIN, he chose to make the island of Chepallonia as main stage (which was not known widely until one read it). While in BIRDS WITHOUT WINGS, he picked a nowhere place, a small village of Eskihbace, situated near Taurus mountains and Telmessos (Fethiye), which is a ruin now (I tried to locate it on the map but had no luck as to the exact spot). And along with these unfamiliar-staged stories, he also brings us the historical events that happened in the great world to describe why things happened the way it was in the main stage.
All thumbs up for this remarkable book :))...more info
- Wonderful and moving
This novel of epic proportions is set in a small village in the Ottoman empire, on the brink of civil war. For generations, the peoples of the village have intermingled and intermarried. Even their religions have somewhat blended, with Muslims praying to the Christian saints, and Christians upholding some of the Muslims beliefs. It's a peaceful and quaint town that time has forgotten.
Soon great changes come to the region, in the way of war and destruction. The village and it's occupants realize that life, unfortunately, often changes even when you don't want it to.
I thought this book was extremely well written, and that the story very moving and sad. It's one of those books that really make you ponder just how unfair and random life can be. ...more info
- Funny, Sad, Absorbing and a Great Piece of History
This is a truly great novel. It is set in Western Turkey in the early 20th century and concerns the events surrounding the first world war, the break-up and eventual dissolution of the Ottoman empire, and the effect that this has on the everyday inhabitants of a small town.
The story opens in Eskibahce and we are drawn into daily life through a series of anecdotes and tales told through the eyes of its various inhabitants. As the book progresses, the scene is cut more frequently to the historical events that are taking place, and as the book reaches its climax, we find ourselves totally engrossed in the war: the geopolitical struggles, the nationalist politics, the struggle between Greeks and Turks, and life in the trenches at Gallipoli.
The book achieves a superb balance between its gripping description of the history and politics of the time, and its equally gripping personal dramas being played out in this context. It explains the great tragedy that results ultimately in the deportation of the Turkish Greeks, with its attendant destruction of whole communities, the terrible consequences to individuals, and even the break-up of individual families.
To call this an "historical novel" is to understate the quality of the story-telling. There is some wonderful narrative here: the book creates its own folklore, marvellous tales, funny stories, sad stories, shocking stories, all embedded in this steam-rollering march of historical inevitability. We also meet some marvelous characters, who become like old friends as they come back time and again to contribute their little piece of the story. And here is another beautifully-executed technique - the stories overlap, as told by different people and seen from different points of view. In the mind of the reader is built a much richer experience of events when seen from so many different angles.
It's one of those books that is satisfying and interesting right from the outset. You know you are not going to be disappointed. It's just as well because it is 625 pages long! However, it's original, it's intelligent, it's informative, and it's one of those books that you must not miss.
- If war is holy then God is not
"If war is holy then God is not" - that is the main lesson and the premise of the book. This epic historical novel loosely traces history of the inhabitants of remote village in the crumbling Ottoman empire. Notably of two boys, Karatavuk and Mehmetcik. Best friends, whose life paths separate them in adolescence, in part because one is a Christian boy, while the other one is Muslim. It appears that in this village these two religions are intermingle, as locals tend to put bets on both sides. Numerous other characters stream through pages of the book, reach and powerful aga Rustem Bay, beautiful Philothei, merchants, husbands and wives. All are pushed by the forces beyond anyones control. Forces of ambitious and proud man like Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, future founder of the Turkish Republic, European powers bent on carving new boundaries in WWI. All this, through the hellish battles of first of world war, results in most disturbing separation of former neighbors, for all Christian are declared to be Greek and moved accordingly to their new home. The cruelty of these wholesale relocations is most appalling and most damaging to both new Turks and this new "Greeks". As book moves forward in time sadness overcomes the reader, for we realize utter futility and worthlessness of lives lost in the great straggle of faceless forces. As grains of sand, all the millions of humans swept away on most brutal battle fields, never to be remembered. The stories of villagers are truly heart breaking and yet uplifting, for they show that compassion is accessible to all. ...more info
- Human Cards Reshuffled and Redistributed:The Tragedy of the Human Element in a Disentegrating Empire
This book is the story of the decisive and tragic years of the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th Century.
It tells about a village in Western Anatolia where the Ottoman residents of Turkish and Greek descent live peacefully together and speak Turkish as their only native tongue. They have their own different religions but share the benevolent apects of both religions:the friendly Muslim Hodja and the comforting expectations from Virgin Mary in the village church.Families are intermingled, young people from different faiths fall in love, until the First World War breaks.
The the Ottoman Empire is under attack from all directions. The Greek Army plunder the cities and the villages, the big Western Powers, the British, the French and the Italians occupy Anatolia from all directions. And the the humble but peaceful and happy lives of the people are distroyed for ever. The people are separated from each other as Muslim and Christian and Turkish and Greek.
The story is told with a deep insight into human character. The reader is introduced to a group of characters that become alive with many details of their life and character, with their follies and virtues.
The knowledge displayed by the author concerning the period is significant. I can say, as an inhabitant of that part of the world, that he has understood all the intricate aspects of the historical unfolding of events with a sharper insight than most historians of the period. The reader does not only enjoy a piece of fiction but learn about a very important phase of history in the hottest part of the world:Anatolia,
when it was being pulled apart among world powers.
It is an excellent book to be savoured....more info
- Read this book!
This is my first review on Amazon; I'm afraid I've long been a moocher, reading other people's reviews but never leaving my own. Let me just put it this way: I read this book three months ago, and I still think about it. It's all a good historical novel should be: it opens a window not only onto the past, but also onto human nature (and thus the future). I can't say that I picked it up because I had any particular interest in Turkey and/or Greece; I liked Corelli's Mandolin and saw this in an airport bookshop. I found it fascinating on every level, and couldn't put it down for about 3 days. It's about history great and small: the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, and the effect on a small multicultural village in Anatolia (now Turkey). Most everybody belonged to one tribe or another, but they all sort of got along until nationalism exploded and the whole thing fell apart. Makes you nostalgic for the old multicultural empires like the Hapsburg and Ottoman: life there has hardly gotten better! Anyway, it's a great read and I for one felt like there were many valuable life insights along the way....more info
- Turkey Should be Proud of this Book,
I read this on the plane trip back from Istanbul and was amazed at this author's knowledge of the language, the people and the culture of Turkey.
Although I had planned to see more of the country, I was forced to stay most of my vacation in Ankara, the home created by the main character of this book -- Ataturk. As a person, Ataturk was unique -- he was blue eyed, tall and blond haired. The city of Ankara similarly is very distinguishable. It is not like any other village or city in the country. It is more metropolitan than all but Istanbul, more western than all of Turkey, and more akin to Europe. That does not make it better, just different.
Having knowledge of the language aided me greatly in this book, and I must wonder if others have the same warm thoughts as his usage of Turkish is a constant -- a constant which truly embellishes the story.
Birds without wings, ironically, were something I only discovered this trip -- my 8th to Turkey. My son bought some -- they are clay birds you blow into which make bird songs. I had never heard of them. And, then in the book I hear them described and learn the cultural and historical significance of these cute objects. Amazingly, my trip somehow weaved with many of the themes and topics of this book.
Reading this before going to Turkey would be a good idea. Reading it after may be better, as the language may be better understood. In any event, this is a first class novel written by a top shelf author. He reminds me a lot of Naipaul.
I have a feeling this author may be receiving awards and accolades in the not-too-distant future.
I assure you that you will not be disappointed....more info
- Birds without wings
This book made an excellent companion as we traveled in Turkey. All the history made everything more understandable especially as we traveled to Gallipoli.
Our Turkish travel leader recommended this book. It intertwines the story of Ataturk, the father of Turkey, with a group of Muslim and Christian villagers prior to the modernization of Turkey. It graphically relates the effects of war both on soldiers and civilians.
An excellent read!...more info
- Historical Fact and Bucolic Love story- Amazing
The writer undertook a very ambitious task trying to tell the history of a part of the world so complex it might take a lifetime to study .Nevertheless he did a marvellous job.In a fascinating way he combines a charming bucolic love story with hard historical fact and it works out just fine,Though his admiration for Araturk is undeniable, he paints a correct and honest picture of the time,not favouring one side over the other.The ones who turn out to be the culprits, are once again the Western Powers.I totally agree with the writer's view regarding the Ottomans, they were not the cruel despots they so often are made out to be. As a matter of fact they were very tolerant regarding religious and social matters. Let's just think about the West and it's Colonial ambitions. The practices and laws applied to the native population were to say the least an example of totalitarianism and discrimination.Though almost a century ago the facts of what happened are still fresh in the memory of the Greeks(I can talk about their feelings because I have been living here as a Foreigner for 25 years)Families whose grand-parents used to live in Smyrna still call themselves "Micro-Asiates"(People from Asia Minor)
The writing is superb and sometimes pure poetry, the characters are all one of a kind. For anyone who loves history that is not boring, this is the real thing.
800 pages of captivating story-telling. A masterpiece in it's genre. ...more info
- Turkey: 1900-1925
This is as good a book as you will find about the fall of the Ottoman empire and its impact of the ethnic groups that lived under its umbrella. To tell the story, the author creates a small village near the Mediterranean in Turkey and peoples it with a cast of characters that include a leech gatherer, a Bey and his faux Circassian courtesan, a potter, a Greek priest and a Muslim Imam, Greek and Armenian businessmen, an incredibly ugly beggar, and a beautiful Greek Christian girl betrothed to a Turkish Muslim shepherd.
The characters are living in relative harmony at the beginning of "Birds Without Wings" but their lives are torn asunder by the destruction of the Ottoman empire, the rise of the "Young Turks," World War I, and the ethnic conflicts which followed. The author devotes a goodly portion of the book to a factual account of the rise to power of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk -- the father of modern Turkey.
To those unfamiliar with the general history of the Ottomans the subject of this book might be as confusing as it was to the musicians who once sang the song, "Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople..." A little advance reading might be useful. The passionate might also be a bit disappointed as "Birds Without Wings" doesn't measure up romantically to "Corelli's Mandolin." But as an examination of the impact of brutal, wrenching, heart-rending war on simple, innocent people "Birds Without Wings" is hard to beat.
The author, Louis de Bernieres, persuades me that he knows what he is talking about as he describes the people of the Ottoman empire. He creates memorable characters and incidents with just a touch of magical realism and whimsy. "Birds Without Wings" is a truly fine novel.
The author is right, the simple people no mater where we are on earth, are birds without wings and are chased by eagles and vultures. The book seizes you from the beginning to the end. Time seemed to be stopped as soon as I begun reading the book until I finished it. The depth of the analysis of the author is unbelievably realistic and unbiased both about historical events as well as the portrayal of the characters and their emotions. I suggest that everyone should read this exceptional book to rediscover the value of peace, friendship and love. ...more info
- All Thumbs Up
I just finished this book a few minutes ago and was going to write in a blog about it. I came here to get the Amazon link for the blog and started reading the reviews. This is my first review after years of as one reviewer called it "mooching" off everyone else. The worst review here is titled "thumbs down" I must disagree. I have returned from a recent trip to Turkey, my first and my first to a Muslim country. I cannot get this country out of my thought, I will return! A friend here, a beautiful Turkish woman who spent the first 20 years of her life in Turkey recommended I read this book. I cannot sing the praises of this book enough. You can read the other reviews to get a sense of the story. It is beautifully meaningful to the times we live in. There is a poem just after the dedication which I will quote here. It is written by Spyros Kyriazopoulos a Greek. It is a brilliant selection to begin this poignantly sad and beautifully written story..... "The Cat"
She was licking-----------the opened tin-----------for hours and hours-----------------without realising----------that she was drinking-------------her own blood. ***** Incredible, a must read! *****...more info
- The characters become like family
This is simply a beautiful book. It's a fictionalized account of the founding of modern-day Turkey and the end of the Ottoman empire, told alternatively through the eyes of everyday people and the man (Mustafa Kemal Ataturk) who pushed for Turkish independence. My partner and I read it before traveling to Turkey and I must say that the novel brings to life the history, culture, and people of Turkey in a more vivid, humorous, and approachable way than any of the historical accounts I've read. The characters are nuanced (no one is all-bad or all-good) and their relationships complex and warm. Big themes such as war, politics, sex, marriage, religious faith, family loyalty, and community are invisibly woven into the stories of these characters' lives. Though heartbreaking in many places, it is definitely not depressing but, rather, uplifting. The writing is simultaneously sophisticated (descriptive and layered) and folksy (capturing the ways that real people think and talk), which I think must be a difficult balance to achieve. ...more info