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
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2004, 576 pages
    Jun 2005, 576 pages

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Yusuf stopped pacing the room, and at last called his sons together. His other daughters assembled too, standing silent and cowed at the back of the darkened room.

When his sons were before him, Yusuf took his pistol from his sash, weighed it in his hand, took it by the barrel, and handed it to his second son, Sadettin. Sadettin took it by the butt, and looked at it in disbelief. At first his voice seemed to fail him. "Baba, not me," he said.

"I have tried," said Yusuf,"and I can’t. I am ashamed, but I can’t."

"Not me, Baba. Why me?"

"You have courage. Great courage. And you are obedient. This is my command."


Yusuf beheld the spiritual and moral agony of his second son, and the surprise, but he would not relent.

"It should be Ekrem," pleaded his second son, gesturing towards the first-born. "Ekrem is oldest." Ekrem held out his hands as if to push his brother away, shaking his head vigorously.

"Ekrem will take my place when your mother dies," said Yusuf. "He is the first-born. You are all used to obeying him. He will be head of the family. It is you who must do this thing." He paused. "I command it."

Father and second son looked at each other for a long moment. "I command it," repeated Yusuf the Tall.

"I would rather kill myself," said Sadettin at last.

"I have other sons." Yusuf placed his hand on Sadettin’s shoulder.

"I am your father."

"I will never forgive you," replied his second son.

"I know. Nonetheless, it is my decision. Sometimes . . ." and here he hesitated, trying to name whatever it is that takes our choices away, ". . . sometimes we are defeated."

Yusuf and Sadettin stood facing each other silently, and at the back of the room one of the girls began to sob. Sadettin appealed to his mother; kneeling before her and taking her hands in his, "Anneci¢gim! Annece¢gim!"

Kaya removed her hands from his grasp, and raised them in a small gesture of impotence. She seemed suddenly like an old woman who has turned her back on life.

"I command you," said Yusuf the Tall.

"It will be on your head," exclaimed Sadettin angrily, rising to his feet.

"On my head," repeated Yusuf.

Sadettin entered the haremlik. It was dark because the shutters were closed, and it smelled comfortingly of things feminine and mysterious. In the corner, glowing and glittering with terror in the half-light, he saw the eyes of his sweet sister, Bezmialem, of all his sisters the most gentle, and the one he loved the best.

"Sadettin," she murmured, her soft voice full of resignation. "I thought it would be Ekrem."

"I thought it would be him," said Sadettin.

She glanced at the pistol, placed her hand on her stomach and looked down. "You will kill both of us."


"The child is innocent."

Sadettin felt the pistol grow heavier in his hand. To himself he thought, "I won’t defile my right hand" and he transferred it to his left.

"I am innocent," said Sadettin.

"We are all innocent," replied Bezmialem.

"You are not." He felt a sudden surge of anger. He blamed her for bringing down the shame, and for shutting him in this trap.

"I found something better than honour," she said, her eyes momentarily shining with happy remembrance.

"What is better than honour?"

"I don’t know the name of it. But it is better. It makes me innocent."

Sadettin took his sister’s right hand in his, knelt before her, and touched it to his heart, his lips and his forehead. He kissed it. He tried to suppress his pain, and he bowed his head. "It is not me who does this thing," he managed to say at last. He said it as quickly as he could, so that the words would not be throttled by sorrow and die in his throat.

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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