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Birds Without Wings

by Louis De Bernières

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,308414,575 (4.07)142
Birds Without Wingstraces the fortunes of one small community in southwest Turkey (Anatolia) in the early part of the last century — a quirky community in which Christian and Muslim lives and traditions have co-existed peacefully over the centuries and where friendship, even love, has transcended religious differences. But with the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the onset of the Great War, the sweep of history has a cataclysmic effect on this peaceful place: The great love of Philothei, a Christian girl of legendary beauty, and Ibrahim, a Muslim shepherd who courts her from near infancy, culminates in tragedy and madness; Two inseparable childhood friends who grow up playing in the hills above the town suddenly find themselves on opposite sides of the bloody struggle; and Rustem Bey, a wealthy landlord, who has an enchanting mistress who is not what she seems. Far away from these small lives, a man of destiny who will come to be known as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is emerging to create a country from the ruins of an empire. Victory at Gallipoli fails to save the Ottomans from ultimate defeat and, as a new conflict arises, Muslims and Christians struggle to survive, let alone understand, their part in the great tragedy that will reshape the whole region forever.… (more)
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» See also 142 mentions

English (38)  Danish (2)  Dutch (1)  All languages (41)
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
This is not an easy book to get into. It describes in great detail life in a small village in Anatolia at the cusp of the 20th century. The Christians and Muslims, Greek Turks and Turkish Greeks in Eskibahce, which means "Garden of Eden", get along amazingly well until the horror of the Great War strikes. My favorites of the large cast of characters were the childhood friends Abdul and Nico who were called by the Turkish names for the Blackbird and Robin because they blew into the pottery whistles that mimicked the songs of these birds to call to each other all day long. "For birds without wings nothing changes; they fly where they will and they know nothing about borders and their quarrels are very small." (551)

The author is better known for Corelli's Mandolin which was in my Top Ten Books in 2001. Birds Without Wings is broader in scope and depth. After reading it, I have a much better understanding of The Ottoman Empire and its downfall. We are guided through the many war chapters through the voice of General Mustafa Kemal who is based on the first President of Turkey.

This SERIOUS book is a challenge to read. For me, it was well worth the effort. It took me over a week to read it and I consulted Wikipedia and my Dictionary app many times. It is more than worthy of the time I spent and the resulting rare 5-star rating. ( )
  Donna828 | May 12, 2020 |
Just loved this book. So beautifully written, humorous in parts, use of language engaging, Can't recommend it enough. ( )
  leica | Aug 28, 2019 |
An epic novel set in Turkey depicting the history of that country in the early part of the 20th century when a peaceful life was changed by politics and war. It's a long book, in parts more like an historical document written as a novel. I needed to check Wikipedia on occasion to get more details. It was, however, beautifully-written, compassionate and understanding. ( )
  VivienneR | Mar 11, 2017 |
Birds Without Wings – Louis de Bernieres –
5 stars
I’ve recently returned from the small town of Eskibache in Turkey as it was early in the last century. I’m trying to return to my real life, but Eskibache and its many colorful inhabitants are alive and very active in my mind. Eskibache is a special place where Muslims and Christians live peacefully together, mingling language and customs and frequently intermarrying. The town has a learned Imam, a Greek orthodox priest and Rustem Bey the aga. Take a walk in the meydan or down the street where the Armenians live or up the steep hills to the tombs. Stop to watch Iskander the Potter and he will tell you a proverb. Go to the hamam and gossip with the women.
Bernieres uses the multiple voices of the town’s inhabitants to tell the history of this tiny unimportant place during the last days of the Ottoman Empire. Along the way, he also provides a biographical history of the career of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the rise of the modern Turkey. How could the story be anything but tragic? Bernieres allows the private traumas of Eskibache to mirror the enormous catastrophes of war, persecutions and exterminations. And somehow, he does it with humor and poetry.

This is one of those books which I acquired both in audio and paper versions. The audio performance by John Lee is outstanding. It helped me to hear correct pronunciations. John Lee handled the frequent changes of voice and viewpoint seamlessly. I had no trouble keeping track of the many characters.
( )
  msjudy | May 30, 2016 |
This is a very moving story set in a small town in Turkey in the early 20th century. Told in many voices and from many viewpoints, it is about a mixed community of Christians and Muslims, Greeks and Turks, who live peacefully together until the war and a changing national identity tears them apart. ( )
  SabinaE | Jan 23, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
"De Bernières has always been adept at juxtaposing brutality with episodes of high comedy or romance, and that's certainly the case here."
 
"Though some readers may balk at the novel's sheer heft, the reward is an effective and moving portrayal of a way of life—and lives—that might, if not for Bernières's careful exposition and imagination, be lost to memory forever."
added by bookfitz | editPublishers Weekly (Aug 30, 2004)
 
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Epigraph
[poem] THE CAT / She was licking / the opened tin / for hours and hours / without realising / that she was drinking / her own blood. // Spyros Kyriazopoulos
Dedication
In the great scheme of things, this book is necessarily dedicated to the unhappy memory of the millions of civilians on all sides during the times portrayed, [...]. More personally, it is also dedicated to the memory of my maternal grandfather, Arthur Kenneth Smithells, [...]. Manet in pectus domesticum.
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The people who remained in this place have often asked themselves why it was that the Ibrahim went mad.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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