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Birds Without Wings by Louis De Bernières
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Birds Without Wings (original 2004; edition 2005)

by Louis De Bernières (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,635495,459 (4.07)184
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)
Member:Maggie90
Title:Birds Without Wings
Authors:Louis De Bernières (Author)
Info:Vintage (2005), Edition: Reprint, 576 pages
Collections:Your library
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Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernières (2004)

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» See also 184 mentions

English (45)  Danish (2)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (49)
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
Wonderful! We visited the ruins of a town very much like this one last summer during our car trip around Southwestern Turkey. This novel made the ghosts we felt there come alive. ( )
  jemisonreads | Jan 22, 2024 |
This started off very slowly, the first third felt like a struggle, but thereafter it picks up. It is written with lots of chapters by or about different people who live in the one village plus Mustafa Kemal. This makes it difficult to get to grips with the cast initially, but pays dividends for sticking with it later on. Gradually his story and that of the village comes together - just as the village is torn apart. If told now the events here would be described as ethnic cleansing and it would be a crime against humanity, about 100 years ago this wasn't the case.This tells a story of great sweep and scope, in the founding of Turkey, and it tells of individuals caught up in those events. Its the contrast between the big and the small scale story at work here and how that fundamentally changes a place and its people. ( )
  Helenliz | Dec 28, 2022 |
Dealing with the death rattle of the Ottoman empire and birth of the nation of Turkey, de Bernieres views great world events, as he usually does, through the eyes of a small village studded with memorable and deeply empathetic characters. His account, thoroughly researched but at times plodding, of the rise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the ponderous, tragic exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey explores themes de Bernieres reiterates through his corpus, namely human violence and deprivation juxtaposed with our inexhaustible capacity for love, as well as his firm belief in good times and fornication. As an added bonus, there are characters and plot lines that qualify it as a prequel to Corelli's Mandolin. Perhaps it could have benefited from another round of editing; it could be just a bit shorter. Thoroughly enjoyed it, as I do with all of his novels. ( )
  MaryJeanPhillips | Jun 22, 2022 |
This historical novel takes us through the momentous bit of Turkish history between 1900 and 1923, with the narrative viewpoint alternating between a helicopter-view of the big events of the career of Mustafa Kemal and a tortoise's-eye-view of the inhabitants of a remote, small town on the Anatolian coast near Fethiye (then called Telmessos).

Rather like Ivo Andrić in The bridge on the Drina, de Bernières shows us the Ottoman Empire as a polity that for centuries made it possible for people of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds to live together in reasonable harmony and without slaughtering each other, even if that life involved a lot of poverty and deprivation for most of them, and no political or legal rights worth speaking of.

The Muslims and Greek Christians who live in Eskibahçe speak the same language, have all been living in Anatolia for centuries, intermarrying from time to time, and don't think of themselves as "Turks" and "Greeks" until nationalist agitators come along and tell them that's what they are. As far as de Bernières is concerned, the "historic grievances" that led to the Greek occupation of Anatolia and the subsequent mass deportations of 1923 had their origins in the political ambitions of people like Venizelos and Mustafa Kemal, amplified into a revenge-cycle by the sort of atrocities that take place automatically as soon as you start an armed conflict.

There is some great, if rather romanticised, storytelling in this book: the Eskibahçe characters are full of interesting human quirks, and de Bernières cleverly mixes in local colour and traditions. The descriptions of Gallipoli from the viewpoint of an Ottoman soldier in the trenches are gripping too. But the political rant in the narrator's own voice in the "history" chapters doesn't seem to work as well: de Bernières is (understandably) so angry at the abuses and humanitarian disasters that leaders on all sides allowed to happen that he makes a lot of sweeping accusations that go beyond the evidence he has shown us. We're inclined to believe his assertions that Kemal, Venizelos, Lloyd George and the Kaiser are a bunch of irresponsible murderous ruffians, of course, and that all Italians except Mussolini are saints, but it would be nicer to be allowed to draw our own conclusions rather than have to take that as axiomatic. And of course, the fact that we know this is a British writer speaking on behalf of Ottoman/Turkish/Greek characters doesn't help.

Oddly, the thing I noticed most about this book before reading it, the fact that it's nearly 800 pages long, didn't really seem to matter. The use of multiple different types of narration results in quite a bit of repetition, but it felt like the sort of book where you could just dig in and let all that wash over you. De Bernière's writing isn't the sort of thing where you have to read a sentence several times. It would probably work really well as an audiobook. ( )
  thorold | Apr 9, 2022 |
I listened to the audiobook. I chose this for the setting and time in history yet I found my mind wandering off easily. Not sure if I became lost with the character and place names or whether it moved back in time and I didn’t realise this without obvious page cues. Think I need to learn more about the history of Turkish and Greek conflict. ( )
  Mercef | Mar 23, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 45 (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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[poem] THE CAT / She was licking / the opened tin / for hours and hours / without realising / that she was drinking / her own blood. // Spyros Kyriazopoulos
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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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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.

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