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Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
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Birdsong (original 1993; edition 1994)

by Sebastian Faulks

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,832133958 (4.01)392
Member:kehs
Title:Birdsong
Authors:Sebastian Faulks
Info:Vintage (1994), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 528 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:WW1

Work details

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (1993)

  1. 30
    Atonement by Ian McEwan (rrravenita)
  2. 21
    The Absolutist by John Boyne (NeilDalley)
  3. 10
    War Underground by Alexander Barrie (mabith)
    mabith: The true story of the tunnelers working during WWI, a little dated in tone but an excellent read.
  4. 00
    The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock (aliklein)
  5. 00
    The First Day on the Somme 1 July 1916 (Penguin History) by Martin Middlebrook (Polaris-)
    Polaris-: For anyone interested in an expertly told history of the background, preparation, and execution of the Battle of the Somme, as well as the aftermath, this will certainly flesh out a lot of the detail behind the central battle featured in Faulks' novel.
  6. 11
    If This Is a Man and The Truce by Primo Levi (sombrio)
  7. 00
    Between the Sword and the Wall: a novel of World War I by Thomas De Angelo (Jan6767)
  8. 00
    Gifts of War by Mackenzie Ford (pdebolt)
  9. 00
    A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin (PLReader)
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» See also 392 mentions

English (130)  Dutch (3)  All (133)
Showing 1-5 of 130 (next | show all)
A powerful, graphic, and poignant account of the First World War as told from the perspective of two central characters on the frontline as well as the granddaughter of one of the characters, who pieces together the central character's story from his writings on the frontline. Gripping, readable, literary – I could not recommend this book highly enough (although the opening chapters of the book are strongly sexual: you've been warned).

One of the most powerful moments in the book, for me, was the starkly depicted difference between the nihilistic carnage of the brokenness of war and the unifying sense of peace and longing for forgiveness that the central character's return to his home brings – a desire for eschatological unity. On the battlefield, the army chaplain chucks his cross away on the battlefield, giving up any kind of hope in his deity in the face of complete human corruption. This compared with Stephen's longing for unity, peace, and, ultimately, redemption when he walks on home soil for a break before heading back to the French battlefield. Here's a snippet of how Stephen feels when he returns home: ''He wanted to stretch out his arms and enfold them in the fields, the sky, the elms with their sounding birds; he wanted to hold them with the unending forgiveness of a father to his prodigal, errant but beloved son, Isabelle and the cruel dead of the war; his lost mother, his friend Weir: nothing was immoral or beyond redemption, all could be brought together, understood in the long perspective of forgiveness. As he clung to the wood, he wanted also to be forgiven for all he had done; he longed for the unity of the world's creation to melt his sins and anger, because his soul was joined to it. His body shook with the passion of the love that had found him, from which he had been exiled in the blood and the flesh of long killing' (p. 363).

*** SPOILER PARAGRAPH ***
Self-sacrifice is so often a theme in great literature – and yet again this book depicts the death of one of its central characters as dying on his own cross, while asking that he be taken off it. Of course, the character who dies underground (Jack) does not actually die on his own cross, but simply recalls in a hallucinatory soliloquy his days mining on the Underground, and asks that he be taken off the cross which created the old cut-and-cover tubes of today. The author is made to feel that he is rabbiting on about a load of rubbish and that he has lost his mind, but in fact, he touches upon a sobering thought. While he has willingly fought in battle for his country, at the end it all feels so pointless. What a waste: 'take me off this cross'.

Moments later, as the book comes to an end, Faulks splashes a note of hope across the final pages with talk of new life and new hope, of the aforementioned forgiveness which Stephen longed for on his return to home soil. This time on the actual battlefield, as Stephen and the German search party which finds him forgive one another with arms outstretched in a loving embrace. The final chapter leaves us with new birth, new hope, and a new generation: one which Faulks, and I also, hope will not repeat the same grievous errors.

Powerful, highly recommended reading. ( )
1 vote m-andrews | Jan 5, 2017 |
The WWI sections were really good, but Faulks' women are one-dimensional. Elizabeth's (the granddaughter) sudden desire to learn about her grandfather and the war wasn't believable and the depiction of her desire and need for children was for me, kind of misogynistic. As was the depiction of Jeanne who magically fell in love with Stephen. If this book was without with 1978 parts I would have enjoyed it more. ( )
  Sareene | Oct 22, 2016 |
This is a classic novel which was recommended to me by my Mum. I really only picked it up because I had to take a book to English class last year and I thought this book would look good to my teacher. I started it in January of this year and the end of last month I decided to make myself finish it.

Plot: 3/5

Some parts of the plot of this novel I really enjoyed but some parts I felt the novel could have done without. I found the plot in the trenches with Stephen to be the best part of the novel. It felt like Faulks had a really extensive knowledge of what World War I was really like. The feelings of fear about going over the top and the constant unease of being so close to the enemy were easily felt and came across very strongly in the book.

The parts of the plot I didn't enjoy was the beginning about Stephen and Isabella's relationship. I just didn't find it very interesting and didn't find myself wanting to pick the novel back up while reading it. Also I didn't enjoy the parts with Stephen's granddaughter Elizabeth discovering things about her grandfather. Chapters of this were between chapters about Stephen and his time in the trenches. I felt this broke up the flow of the story with Stephen and it didn't really add anything to the overall story.

Characters: 4/5

The main character in this novel is an Englishman called Stephen Wraysford. I really like this character as I found him likeable in the beginning when he was in France, but I felt his character change when he entered the trenches just like many men's did. In the trenches he was a hard, cold character who kept all his emotions kept bottled inside because he didn't want the men he was commanding, to see how scared he was.

Other characters include Isabella, who Stephen has an affair with at the beginning. I didn't like Isabella as a character as I found some of the things she did to Stephen and the reasons she gave for doing them as not good enough. I did enjoy her story during the war as I found that interesting but I still didn't like her.

We also get to meet Isabella's sister Jean who sends letters to Stephen during the war and has a part to play at the end as well.

The men Stephen comes in contact with during his time in the trenches are a mixed bunch with many of his original friends being dead by the end of the novel, just how it was in the war. There were some so likeable characters that I actually felt a bit sad when they died.

Overall: 4/5

I actually kind of wish that this whole novel was just based in the trenches as I found this to be the most interesting and wouldn't have minded a whole book on that. I would recommend this novel to everybody as it is a classic and I think everybody should probably read it.
( )
1 vote ACascadeofBooks | Oct 5, 2016 |
What a beautifully literate and lyrical novel. I absolutely loved this novel and will seek out everything this author has ever written! Best book I've read in the last 5 years! ( )
  Icewineanne | Aug 4, 2016 |
I re-read this after some 10-15 years (maybe more!) and was surprised to find how little I remembered. The trench warfare was vivid, as was the picture of the veterans in their care home, but little else seemed familiar.
Still a highly evocative novel, but slightly ambivalent at this read through; Stephen and Elizabeth are aloof, observing individuals that you may empathise with, but never take to your heart. Or perhaps that's because I am an aloof observing individual. I suppose it feels a bit like real life, it never quite turns out the way you thought it would. Still, for all that a solid 4 star read. ( )
  jkdavies | Jun 14, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 130 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sebastian Faulksprimary authorall editionscalculated
Davids, TinkeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Firth, PeterNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Perria, LidiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
West, SamuelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
'When I go from hence, let this be my parting word, that what I have seen is unsurpassable.' Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali
Dedication
For Edward
First words
The boulevard du cange was a broad, quiet street that marked the eastern flank of the city of Amiens.
Quotations
Madame Azaire had not fully engaged Stephen's eye
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Published to international critical and popular acclaim, this intensely romantic yet stunningly realistic novel spans three generations and the unimaginable gulf between the First World War and the present. As the young Englishman Stephen Wraysford passes through a tempestuous love affair with Isabelle Azaire in France and enters the dark, surreal world beneath the trenches of No Man's Land. (0-679-77681-8)
Haiku summary
Brave soldiers digging
claustrophobic tunnels. Trench
warfare on both sides.
(passion4reading)

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679776818, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:45 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Rootless and heartbroken Stephen Wraysford joins the army at the outbreak of World War I. He and his men are given the assignment to tunnel under the German lines and set off bombs. The comaraderie, love, and loyalty of the soldiers contrasts with the horrors of the underground, air, and trench warfare.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 8 descriptions

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