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Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War (original 1993; edition 1997)

by Sebastian Faulks

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,3041121,147 (4.03)330
Member:Ash_Charlton
Title:Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War
Authors:Sebastian Faulks
Info:Vintage (1997), Edition: First Edition, Paperback, 496 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:None

Work details

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (1993)

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English (110)  Dutch (2)  All languages (112)
Showing 1-5 of 110 (next | show all)
Birdsong is broken into seven different sections covering three different periods of main character Stephen Wraysford's life, 1910, 1916 - 1918, and 1978 - 1979 (the last being through the eyes of his granddaughter, Elizabeth). When we first meet Stephen in 1910 he is a young Englishman sent to France to observe operations at a textile mill in Amiens. It is there that he meets the beautiful and lonely Mrs. Isabelle Azaire. From the moment they meet, their attraction to one another is instantaneous and unavoidable. Even an innocent activity like pruning in the garden speaks volumes of what is to come. It isn't long before the two give in to their carnal desires and commit adultery. If you are shy about sex scenes, there are a few you may want to skip. The second encounter in the library is pretty racy! The attraction between the lovers is so strong that Isabelle runs away with Stephen, only to be wracked by guilt causing her to leave him a short time later. We don't know what happens to this couple after Isabelle's leaving. This is a mystery that hangs over the next section of Stephen's life.
When we meet up again with Stephen it is six years later and he is a soldier, sent to work in the tunnels below enemy lines. This section of the book, covering World War I, is incredibly graphic and haunting. Faulk's portrayals of battle are as realistic as they are heartbreaking. Interspersed between Stephen's World War I experiences is the life of his granddaughter, Elizabeth. When she becomes curious about his life she sets out to learn all that she can and ends up learning more about herself in the process. History repeats itself and comes full circle for Wraysford's legacy. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jun 18, 2014 |
From the front cover: ""Overpowering and beautiful.... A great novel." -Simon Schama. The New Yorker"

I agree wholeheartedly.

This novel will stay with me for a long time. Yes, there is a love story. But, far more than that, this is a novel of war. In 1910, a young Englishman, Stephen Wraysford, is sent to France by the company he works for. He stays with a family in the town of Amiens, and begins a life changing love affair. The books starts there, but quickly moves on to 1916 where Lieutenant Wraysford has been fighting in the trenches. Stephen and some of the other main characters are really well drawn. You feel their fear, bravery, and caring about the men they know. You feel their need of not wanting to get too close to the men that they don't know, because they know they are all going to die. They all struggle with understanding why they are doing what they are doing, and they try to find belief in some higher power to give some hope to what lies ahead. The descriptions of the trench warfare, and the tunneling under "No Man's Land" are very vivid and probably the best descriptions of the terrible sacrifice that I have ever read. I found myself really caring about these people and yet knowing that I shouldn't get too attached. After all, it was war. ( )
  NanaCC | Jun 11, 2014 |
I have had this book on my radar for a while now, but after seeing some mediocre reviews I wasn't sure I would like it much. With the WWI theme and a group read in the "1001 books to read before you die" group, I decided it was time to try it. I'm so glad I did since I ended up loving it.

This is the story of Stephen Wraysford's war experience. The book begins in 1910 and shows a youthful Stephen in France falling in love with an older married woman, Isabelle. This is the most obvious "love" part of the novel. Next we skip to 1916 and see Stephan's brutal war experience. He is cold and detached, uncaring, perfect for a soldier. He also has luck and as all of his comrades are gruesomely dying around him, he somehow lives on. But for what? The next part of the novel takes place in England in 1978 and focuses on Elizabeth who is becoming interested in the history of her grandfather who was a soldier in WWI and who she knows almost nothing about.

The novel is subtitled "A Novel of Love and War" and I found it a significant addition to the title. What really struck me about this book was the idea of love. To me, the idea of love between Stephen and the other soldiers he fought alongside was the real love present in the book. It is an untraditional love - these men don't really know much about each other, they don't share much, sometimes they don't even remember names, but I think you could still say that they do love each other. As they die together and experience the same horrors, they are bound together. It isn't a way I've really thought of love before, but I think it counts. This idea all came together for me when Jack Firebrance says "I could have loved you" towards the end of his life. Then I thought of all the men Stephen had watched die and thought that this was such a deeper love than he ever felt for Isabelle, even though it didn't strike me as love when I was reading those parts.

I did not particularly love the 1970s portion of the book. I thought the main character, Elizabeth, was pretty annoying, and though there was a connection to the war story, I just didn't think it added all the much to the book. I do think, though, that it gave some relief to the horrors of the war sections.

Overall, I really loved this book and would recommend it to anyone looking for some WWI reading during this anniversary year.
  japaul22 | Jun 7, 2014 |
This was one of the texts required to study for the for AS World War One literature module of English Literature. Perhaps then, this is why this novel did not resonate with me at all.

The structure was interesting but the interesting and sometimes captivating passages set during the First World War were the novel's only redeeming features. Faulks was able to vividly recreate the horror of trench warfare and yet every other aspect of the novel felt tired and trite; as for the "modern perspective", it felt particularly unnecessary.

There are plenty of good novels and poems that deal with World War One ably; Faulks attempts to do so and yet falls short. It seems unfortunate that All Quiet on the Western Front or The Good Soldier Švejk were not chosen instead. ( )
  xuebi | May 30, 2014 |

This book tells the story of Stephen Wraysford and the events that shape his life during WWI, the Great War. Starting in pre-war France and moving on in time, it deals with Stephen's experiences in love and war. It begins in 1910 when Steven discovers his first love. It's not so much love, however, more a young man's lust idealized as love. And, that, sadly, was to be interrupted by war. It will provide much necessary yearning for the young Steven who goes off to that terrible war.

The battlefield scenes are very descriptive, making difficult reading at times, as the reader is engulfed in the trenches and tunnels as if witnessing the carnage and the brutalities of War first hand. Stephen loses more and more of his innocence and humanity, and looks upon death as expected rather than feared. As his humanity diminishes in the face of the horridness of battle and the claustrophobia of the tunnels he finally experiences a resurgence of the will to live. Life, however, will be far different than what he imagined before the war to end all wars.

The only part of the book I didn't like was, that after reading almost half of the the book set in WWI times, the story flashes forward to 1979 and Stephen's grandaughter and her search for information on her deceased grandfather. While there was some interesting aspects of her story, I felt like it just didn't belong.

The book, though, is an admirable novel of WWI of which there are too few. WWI truly should have been a warning for the future but sadly.....we now have drones and a supposedly sanitized way of war. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning why we should abandon warfare. ( )
  m2snick | Feb 19, 2014 |
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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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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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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.
(passion4reading)
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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:44:12 -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)

» see all 8 descriptions

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