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Excerpt from Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Birds Without Wings

by Louis de Bernieres

Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres X
Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2004, 576 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 2005, 576 pages

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"It is our father who does this," said his sister. "The injustice isn’t yours."

"May God receive you in paradise," said Sadettin.

"May I see you there," replied Bezmialem.

"May the angels carry you."

"And you when the time comes."

Sadettin raised himself up and realised that after all he would have to defile his right hand. He transferred the pistol, threw his left arm around his sister’s neck and embraced her. They stood together, trembling. Softly she put her arms around him, as if he were a lover. He felt the soft pulse of her breath on his neck. He placed the muzzle of his pistol against her heart, clenched his eyes shut, muttered, "In the name of God . . ." and fired. He held Bezmialem to him as she choked and the spasms and convulsions overcame her. He thought that they would never end, and the dread came over him that he might have to go out, reload the pistol and shoot her again. For a desperate few seconds he wondered if it might not be possible to take her to a surgeon and save her. At last her head fell on his shoulder, and finally he let her down gently to the floor. He knelt and kissed her, the arc of his motion so familiar because so akin to the rituals of the mosque, and then he rested his forehead on hers.

When Sadettin emerged into the selamlik, his shirt was glistening with the dark blood that his sister had coughed up, and it was as if he had become another man. He threw the gun down at his father’s feet in a brutal gesture of contempt, held his father’s gaze, and wiped his hands so roughly together that they made a sound like clapping. "I have defiled my right hand because of you. I am finished with you all," he said.

"Where will you go?" asked his father.

"Where do the birds go?" asked Sadettin. He gestured in the direction of the Taurus Mountains, rising up from the Elysian coastal plain like a vast and sombre fortress. Behind them stretched the grim plains of the east, where a hard and uncouth people sat silently in the dark for months, doing nothing whilst they waited for the winter snows to melt.

"I am an outlaw," he said. "That is where I will be. With God’s help, I shall not live long."

Sadettin left, taking nothing with him but a musket, and without kissing his father’s hand, or touching it to his forehead, or to his heart.

Shortly afterwards Yusuf the Tall emerged from the house with the pistol restored to his sash, his fez brushed and restored to his head. A small and anxious crowd of people had gathered outside, wondering about the meaning of the shot. They had seen Sadettin leave in a fury, with his musket over his shoulder and the blood on his shirt, and his air of one who would never be able to bear a human touch again.

Ignoring these people, Yusuf set off down the steep and teeming alleyways.

He was affronted by the normality of the town. He stepped over the sleeping dogs, and skirted the kneeling camels. In the distance he could hear the Blasphemer railing against the priest. Little Philothei was being followed as usual by Ibrahim. Her friend Drosoula, as usual, had the devoted Gerasimos in tow. Abdulhamid Hodja rode by on Nilufer, her bells tinkling and her ribbons fluttering. Under his awning, Iskander the Potter worked at his wheel, and raised a lazy clay-caked hand in greeting. The goldfinch of Leonidas twittered in its cage outside the teacher’s door. Ali the Snowbringer led his donkey by, its flanks wet and glistening from the melting packs of ice. Karatavuk in his black shirt, and Mehmetçik in his red, played with stones under a fig tree. To Yusuf, all this ordinariness was like the mockery of God.

He found the two gendarmes playing backgammon together on a table in the shade of the plane trees of the meydan. As the day had grown warmer, so more of the buttons of their tunics had become undone. Both of them were in urgent need of the weekly shave that they would take that evening before Friday began. They looked up, not unduly pleased to be interrupted in their duty to the holy game of backgammon, and pronounced "Hos. geldiniz" in reluctant unison.

Excerpted from Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernières, pages 137-142 inclusive. Copyright 2004 by Louis de Bernières. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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