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Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

Birdsong (original 1993; edition 1994)

by Sebastian Faulks

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4,4741191,094 (4.02)359
Authors:Sebastian Faulks
Info:Vintage (1994), Edition: New Ed, Paperback, 528 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (1993)

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» See also 359 mentions

English (116)  Dutch (3)  All languages (119)
Showing 1-5 of 116 (next | show all)
My father recommended this to me many years ago and apart from a few key factors I don't remember a great deal. It is set during a war and a man is trapped underground and as to essentially blow his way out of the ground. Almost like Andy Weirs The Martin or Flight of the Phoenix it explores, in minute details, the movement of hundreds of pounds of explosive back and forth in a tiny place with little to no air with the view to a grand explosion/ Nice writing and I did not struggle with the pace or details, it just did not grab me by the boys and most war books do. ( )
  areadingmachine | Jul 6, 2015 |
The novel spans the life of Stephen Wraysford before and during World War I (1914-1918), and also the life of Stephen's granddaughter, Elizabeth, as she tries to find out more about her grandfather's war experience. It moves between France 1910; France 1916; England 1978; France 1917; England 1978-1979; France 1918 and England 1979. Elizabeth's mother was the result of Stephen love affair with married woman Isabelle Azaire in France. Maybe I've just read too many war stories of late but I had to skim pages in my attempt to finish this novel. The part that touched me most was the description of the end of the war on pages 484 and 485. ( )
1 vote boppisces | Apr 4, 2015 |
Birdsong is a multi-layered compelling story of personal love and loss and of the horrors of World War I in the trenches. It spans time from pre-war 1910 to the war years to the late 1970's. The protagonist is Stephen Wraysford, a young man who visits Amiens, France in 1910 on assignment from his employer to learn about the French textile trade. Stephen is hosted by the Azaire family whose patriarch is a textile manufacturer. Isabelle is the wife of the widowed Azaire. She is the youngest daughter of an overbearing family who has married Azaire through an arrangement. Isabelle is unable to conceive a child with Azaire who descends into cruel behavior toward her. Stephen is drawn to Isabelle in a torrid affair resulting in her leaving Azaire to live with Stephen. After trying to establish their own life, Isabelle, overcome by guilt, leaves Stephen without notice.

The novel shifts to 1916 where Stephen has become an officer in the British army. Here, and throughout the war chapters of the book, is described the horrendous conditions that the soldiers experienced in the trenches. The incredible slaughter of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 is featured, a futile and horrific sacrifice of the British in an attempt to break through the German line. Faulks's depiction of war fare in the Great War is vivid and shocking.

The novel shift abruptly to 1978 where a young women, Elizabeth Benson, discovers some papers in her mother's attic that intrigue her. It appears that her grandfather, whom she hardly knew, was in the first world war. Most fascinating find is a diary written in a sort of code. She takes the diary to an amateur cryptologist who sets about trying to decipher it.

The book turns back to the war in 1917. Stephen has survived some war wounds and while on leave returns to Amiens. He encounters Jeanne, the sister of Isabelle, and with her help reconnects with Isabelle. Isabelle has suffered a facial wound in a shelling of her home and we learn that she has become the lover of a German officer who had been quartered in their home. Isabelle and Jeanne both conceal that Isabelle has a young child. Isabelle leaves for Munich to be with her German lover and Stephen and Jeanne develop a friendship over several months.

Stephen's unit is stationed with a detachment of miners whose role is to mine tunnels under the German lines to plant explosives. The Germans are doing the same and there are bloody clashes as they periodically encounter each other. At the culmination of Stephen's war experience he goes on an underground scouting mission with a miner. A bomb detonated by the Germans that traps Stephen and a miner. The tale of Stephen's escape from the underground is a depiction of an ascent from hell. Much of the metaphorical of the
power of the novel derives from the images of being underground in trenches or tunnels.

Elizabeth pursues the mystery of the diary. When it is finally decoded and she learns of the terrible war experiences of her grandfather and that Stephen has married Jeanne after the war. When she reveals this to her mother she learns that her mother is not the daughter of Stephen and Jeanne, but is the child of Stephen and Isabelle. Isabelle died of influenza after the war and the child was brought up by Jeanne and Stephen.

This is a richly textured story of love, loss, degradation and the abysmal atrocities of the war. It is incredibly powerful, particularly in its depictions of the life in the trenches and the horrible affects of the war on those who fought it. There is nothing glorious about what these men endured and its darkness gives us the perspective on war that we should hold. ( )
  stevesmits | Jan 31, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sebastian Faulksprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Davids, TinkeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
West, SamuelNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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'When I go from hence, let this be my parting word, that what I have seen is unsurpassable.' Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali
For Edward
First words
The boulevard du cange was a broad, quiet street that marked the eastern flank of the city of Amiens.
Madame Azaire had not fully engaged Stephen's eye
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (2)

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
Stephen's passionate
Love affair with Isabelle,
Fights in World War One.
Brave soldiers digging
Claustrophobic tunnels. Trench
Warfare on both sides.

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 6 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)

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