Louis de Bernières's last novel, Corelli's Mandolin, was met with the highest praise: "Behind every page," said Richard Russo, "we sense its author's intelligence, wit, heart, imagination, and wisdom. This is a great book." A. S. Byatt placed the author in "the direct line that runs through Dickens and Evelyn Waugh." Now, de Bernières gives us his long-awaited new novel. Huge, resonant, lyrical, filled with humor and pathos, a novel about the political and personal costs of war, and of lovebetween men and women, between friends, between those who are driven to be enemies.
It is the story of a small coastal town in South West Anatolia in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire told in the richly varied voices of the peopleChristians and Muslims of Turkish and Greek and Armenian descentwhose lives are rooted there, intertwined for untold years. There is Iskander, the potter and local font of proverbial wisdom; KaratavukIskander's sonand Mehmetçik, childhood friends whose playground stretches across the hills above the town, where Mehmetçik teaches the illiterate Karatavuk to write Turkish in Greek letters. There are Father Kristoforos and Abdulhamid Hodja, holy men of different faiths who greet each other as "Infidel Efendi"; Rustem Bey, the landlord and protector of the town, whose wife is stoned for the sin of adultery. There is a man known as "the Dog" because of his hideous aspect, who lives among the Lycian tombs; and another known as "the Blasphemer," who wanders the town cursing God and all of his representatives of all faiths. And there is Philothei, the Christian girl of legendary beauty, courted from infancy by Ibrahim the goatherda great love that culminates in tragedy and madness. But Birds Without Wings is also the story of Mustafa Kemal, whose military genius will lead him to victory against the invading Western European forces of the Great War and a reshaping of the whole region.
When the young men of the town are conscripted, we follow Karatavuk to Gallipoli, where the intimate brutality of battle robs him of all innocence. And in the town he left behind, we see how the twin scourges of fanatical religion and nationalism unleashed by the war quickly, and irreversibly, destroy the fabric of centuries-old peace.
Epic in its narrative sweepsteeped in historical factyet profoundly humane and dazzlingly evocative in its emotional and sensual detail, Birds Without Wings is a triumph.
The Tyranny of Honour
Yusuf the Tall loved all his children equally, with a passionate adoration that, when he thought about it, sometimes made him lachrymose. If his life were like a garden, then his daughters would be like the roses growing alongside its walls, and his sons would be like young trees that formed a palisade against the world. When they were small he devoted happy hours to their entertainment, and when they grew older he hugged them until their eyes bulged and they thought that their ribs would crack. He had grown to love his wife too, partly because this is what happens when a wife is well chosen, and partly because from her loins had sprung these brooks and becks of happiness.
But now Yusuf the Tall did not know what to do with his hands. It seemed as though they were behaving on their own. The thumb and middle finger of his left hand stroked across his eyeballs, meeting at the bridge of his nose. It was comforting, perhaps, for a scintilla of time...
About This Books
Set on the eve of World War I, Birds Without Wings tells the story of Eskibahçe, a charming and vibrant ethnically mixed town in present-day Turkey, and how it is irrevocably changed by the ravages of nationalism, war, and religious fervor. Before the war, Eskibahçe is filled with a wild assortment of characters, Christian and Muslim, Turkish and Armenian, the mad and the sane, the rich and the poor, living side by side in remarkable harmony.
A very exceptional book from the author of Captain Corelli's Mandolin.
(Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
Full Review (421 words).
Background: The Ottoman Empire ruled large tracts
of central Europe for about 450 years, until it was defeated by the Turkish
nationalists in 1918. The Turks were led by Mustafa Kemal, whose
story forms just one of the many threads in this tapestry of a book.
Although I obviously cannot endorse either, I found these sites provided useful
background reading about the Ottoman Empire and Mustafa Kemal.
The excerpt, chosen by the publisher, is from Chapter 27. It's well chosen because it reads much like a short story in its own right; and doesn't give away any key plot details that would spoil your enjoyment of the book before ...
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