Summary and book reviews of Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

Birdsong

by Sebastian Faulks

Birdsong
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  • First Published:
    Feb 1996, 402 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 1997, 483 pages

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Book Summary

Crafted from the ruins of war and the indestructibility of love, Birdsong is a novel that will be read and marveled at for years to come.

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, Sebastian Faulks creates a world of fiction that is as tragic as A Farewell to Arms and as sensuous as The English Patient. Crafted from the ruins of war and the indestructibility of love, Birdsong is a novel that will be read and marveled at for years to come.

FRANCE
1910

Part One

The boulevard du Cange was a broad, quiet street that marked the eastern flank of the city of Amiens. The wagons that rolled in from Lille and Arras to the north drove directly into the tanneries and mills of the Saint Leu quarter without needing to use this rutted, leafy road. The town side of the boulevard backed on to substantial gardens, which were squared off and apportioned with civic precision to the houses they adjoined. On the damp grass were chestnut trees, lilacs, and willows, cultivated to give shade and quietness to their owners. The gardens had a wild, overgrown look and their deep lawns and bursting hedges could conceal small clearings, quiet pools, and areas unvisited even by the inhabitants, where patches of grass and wild flowers lay beneath the branches of overhanging trees.

Behind the gardens the river Somme broke up into small canals that were the picturesque feature of Saint Leu; on the other side of the boulevard these had been ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading and discussion of Sebastian Faulks's Birdsong. We hope they will enrich your understanding of this overpowering and harrowing novel, a Tolstoyan epic of love, war, and redemption.

About This Book

In 1910 a young Englishman, Stephen Wraysford, goes to Picardy, France, to learn the textile business. While there he plunges into a love affair with the young wife of his host, a passion so imperative and consuming that it changes him forever. Several years later, with the outbreak of World War I, he finds himself again in the fields of Picardy, this time as a soldier on the Western Front. A strange, occasionally bitter man, Stephen is ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

New Yorker - Simon Schama

Ambitious, outrageous, poignant, sleep-disturbing, Birdsong is not a prefect novel--just a great one.

The New York Times Book Review - Michael Gorra

Birdsong seems to me superb. His prose is spare and precise.... Mr. Faulks's elaborate structure merely demonstrates how quickly innovation can be reduced to a formula. The present-day scenes in Birdsong are so lackluster that they seem a kind of injustice; I can scarcely believe they're the work of the same writer who in this book's best pages draws on Owen's great poem to provide a genuinely cathartic description of the war's last days.

Los Angeles Times Book Review - George Garrett

Worthy in every way of its honors and success..The accounts of combat, ringing with credibility and authenticity, are among the finest that I have ever read.

Booklist - Gilbert Taylor

As typical of the "lost generation" of Britain (where this novel was a best-seller), the Wraysford antihero realistically conveys what a waste--in lives and psyches--the trench experience was. A well-crafted glimpse into gloom.

Publishers Weekly

Enlivened with considerable historical detail related through accomplished prose, his narrative flows with a pleasingly appropriate recklessness that brings his characters to dynamic life.

Daily Mail - Quentin Crewe

An amazing book--among the most stirringly erotic I have read for years...I have read it and re-read it and can think of no other novel for many, many years that has so moved me or stimulated in me so much reflection on the human spirit.

Sunday Express - Andrew James

This book is so powerful that as I finished it I turned to the front to start again.

Mail on Sunday - Brian Masters

One of the finest novels of the last 40 years.

Time Out - Nigel Watts

This is literature at its very best: a book with the power to reveal the unimagined, so that one's life is set in a changed context. I urge you to read it.

Author Blurb Frank Conroy
Birdsong moved me more profoundly than anything I've read in years.... A deeply compassionate, utterly thrilling work by a master of the form.

Reader Reviews

Emma Bambridge

The most emotional book I have ever read
Birdsong didn't appeal to me at first when I read the blurb. But as I started reading the first chapter I couldn't put it down! Stephen as the main character made my imagination come to life! I pictured everything that happened and felt the pain ...   Read More

Karen

Great war story, weak love story
Not being a fan of war novels, I was a bit leery to start this book had it not been so highly recommended. While the accounts of the war were truly horrific beyond comprehension, it was written in such a way that what you actually see and feel as a ...   Read More

Emma McKay

One of the most moving books I have ever read..
People recommend books all the time - and in fact 'Birdsong' wasn't recommended to me, I fortunately just came across it - but a week after finishing the book the images and characters are so thoughtfully and dramatically developed that they remain ...   Read More

Aaron 'AZ' Lock

it's a good book
The title 'Birdsong' is ironic as the contexts of this novel of war and physical and mental travesty contradict the majesty of it's title. The book's compelling horror of war is graphically portrayed and will shock even the boldest reader "they ...   Read More

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