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Birds Without Wings by Louis De Bernieres
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Birds Without Wings (edition 2005)

by Louis De Bernieres

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Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I have read all De Berniere's and this one is right up there. It is far better than Capt Corelli's mandolin.

Set in Turkey at the end of the Ottoman Empire, through the Great War and into the rise of Mustapha Kemal. It takes us through the lives of a group of villagers and the effects of these times upon them. It is moving, joyous and at times deeply sad.

I enjoy historical novels immensely. The story is made up but the the historical detail and many of the characters did exist. A thoroughly good read! ( )
  twosheds | Feb 26, 2014 |
Partially read. Overly long and slow. Interesting characters and relationships. ( )
  TadsList | Jun 25, 2013 |
An interesting fictionalised account of a village in Turkey whose Greek Orthodox population is sent to Greece as part of an enforced population swap after World War I. The novel is slow to begin with, but the short chapters written from different points of view work well to build up a sense of time and place. ( )
  cazfrancis | Jun 10, 2013 |
The writing is on par with Corelli's Mandolin, but overall I think this story is not quite as powerful as that one.

A buzz of animal noises began to stir in the crowd, and an ugliness spiralled up in it, the evil that emanates as if from nowhere when people are permitted to act basely in a righteous cause. (93)

[She:] reflected that it was hardly easy to be married to such a good man, because there was too much of a difference between "good" and "sensible," and a sensible man does not waste his time being considerate to tortoises... (113)

[H:]istory...is finally nothing but a sorry edifice constructed from the hacked flesh in the name of great ideas. (120)

"Does anyone know a story that isn't filthy?...I ask just out of curiosity, and not with much hope." (126)

[T:]he primary epiphenomena of any religion's foundation are the production and flourishment of hypocrisy, megalomania and psychopathy, and the first casualties of a religion's establishment are the intentions of its founder. (143)

...and no one with any sense pisses off the Turks, because the one thing the Turks are very good at is overreacting when pissed off. (451)

It is often useless to plan for things, even when you know exactly what you are doing. The present is confounded by the future, the future is confounded by the future beyond it, and the memories bubble up in disorder, and the heart is unpredictable. (550) ( )
  JennyArch | Apr 3, 2013 |

Tracing the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the birth of the modern republic of Turkey, this novel alternates the first and third person narratives of a range of characters from the fictional town of Eskibahçe (meaning Garden of Eden) in southwest Turkey with an account of the life of Mustafa Kemal, later Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the first leader of modern Turkey.

At the turn of the 20th century, the inhabitants of Eskibahçe comprise Muslim Turks, Christians of Greek origin and Armenians. They live together in relative harmony, forming friendships and inter-marrying. Both Christians and Muslims hedge their bets somewhat, with Muslims asking their Christian friends to offer prayers of intercession and Christians having a profound respect for the local imam. The lives of the inhabitants of Eskibahçe are torn apart by World War I and Turkey’s subsequent war with Greece, together with the Armenian genocide and the forced exile of Turkish Christians to Greece and of Muslim Greeks to Turkey.

In beautiful and accessible prose, de Bernières creates a strong sense of time and place. I found the chapters dealing with the Gallipoli campaign particularly powerful. The story of this WWI campaign is well-known to Australians and New Zealanders, who commemorate the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 as a national day to honour those who have served their country in time of war. It was extremely moving to read an account of the campaign – including an account of the fellowship and respect which grew between the Turkish and the Australian and New Zealand soldiers – from a Turkish point of view. The account of the forced exodus of Armenians in 1915 (and the subsequent Armenian genocide, which in terms of the novel occurs “off-stage”) and that of the expulsion of Greeks from Turkey and of Muslims from Greece after the signing of the “Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations” in 1923 are also powerful and moving.

It took me a while to become completely engaged with the characters and the narrative. This is a long novel and de Bernières introduces his characters and builds tension slowly. While there is plenty of humour – a lot of it sardonic - the work is a serious indictment of extreme nationalism, of religious dogma and of war and its atrocities. However, it also explores human resilience and the type of love and friendship which can survive even the horror of war and ethnic and religious conflict . In a sense, Eskibahçe represents a Turkey in which different religious and ethnic communities could live in harmony before the choice to do so was taken away from them. And the tragic love story of the Muslim boy Ibrahim and the Christian girl Philotei which forms part of the narrative represents the tragedy which befell Greek Christians expelled from Turkey to a land which was not their own. In the process of describing the devastation on which this novel centres, de Bernières does not spare himself in criticising those he considers responsible for what occurred.

Before I started reading the novel, I was reasonably familiar with the political situation in Turkey since the 1980s. By reading it I learned a lot about the beginnings of modern Turkey and was able to put what I already knew into historical context. This is not an easy novel to read. However, it made me both laugh and cry and for a patient reader with an interest in 20th century international relations, the novel is a rewarding literary experience. Thanks to my GR friend Chrissie for recommending it to me.
( )
1 vote KimMR | Apr 2, 2013 |
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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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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0099478986, Paperback)

Set against the backdrop of the collapsing Ottoman Empire, the Gallipoli campaign and the subsequent bitter struggle between Greeks and Turks, Birds Without Wings traces the fortunes of one small community in south-west Anatolia - a town in which Christian and Muslim lives and traditions have co-existed peacefully for centuries. When war is declared and the outside world intrudes, the twin scourges of religion and nationalism lead to forced marches and massacres, and the peaceful fabric of life is destroyed. Birds Without Wings is a novel about the personal and political costs of war, and about love: between men and women; between friends; between those who are driven to be enemies; and between Philothei, a Christian girl of legendary beauty, and Ibrahim the Goatherd, who has courted her since infancy. Epic in sweep, intoxicating in its sensual detail, it is an enchanting masterpiece.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:27:29 -0400)

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During the finals days of the Ottoman Empire, the young men of the village are instructed to battle the invading forces during the Great War and destroy the peace.

(summary from another edition)

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