Birds Without Wings
By Louis De Bernieres
(Random House Large Print, Hardcover, Large Print, 9780375434341, 928pp.)
Publication Date: August 24, 2004
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Birds Without Wings traces 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.
Louis de Bernières’ previous bestselling novels are Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman, Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord and The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts. He lives in London.
"a rich, mottled chorus, an amalgam of subplots that weave and complement each other in such a way that the town itself might be better called the central character. . . . For those who do not devour it immediately, Birds Without Wings will sit as great epics sit, on one's shelf demanding to be read, making one feel irresponsible and guilty, provoking resolutions of 'must read this before death.' Do read it before you die. It would be a terrible thing to have missed a work of such importance, beauty and compassion."
—Camilla Gibb, The Globe and Mail
"De Bernières has unquestionably crafted a masterpiece."
—The Chronicle Herald
"De Bernières is at his finest when he allows us to experience hardships and horrors through the lives of the villagers. He writes movingly of the battle of Gallipoli from the Turkish point of view, and the brutal, dehumanizing conditions of trench warfare."
—The Seattle Times
"Highly impressive in its ambition and relative readability, to say nothing of its relevance for a time when the intersection of religion, nationalism and war is once again reshaping the world."
"De Bernières demands complete attention from his readers, but that close attention required is well rewarded. . . . Part novel, part historical document. This is a difficult book that stretches the traditional form of the novel."
"This is a work that will move you deeply. A profound sadness and world-weariness pervade it, though at times it moves us to anger and pity…. What makes the work so poignant is de Bernières’ exquisite ability to draw complex and fully realized characters about whom we come to care…. De Bernières will not let us forget that these things have happened and will happen again."
"De Bernières distributes his scorn and his compassion evenly, concerned as he is with questions that cut across lines of nationality and religion. An undertone of righteous disgust at what the powerful inflict on the powerless is felt throughout this book. It’s affecting and not pedantic, because de Bernières is so good at depicting the good things that always seem to get trampled…. With a book as rich as Birds Without Wings…we’re free to sit back and enjoy a huge story well told."
—The Gazette (Montreal)
"Birds Without Wings is superbly written, gathering people and their hearts and souls and all their baggage of loss and hope together in one place and giving a point to life. It is, in every sense, a sublime book."
—The Irish Times
"An absorbing read about a remote but captivating time. The Ottoman world's break-up is a rich, poignant story, and Mr. de Bernières is a good storyteller. At times he is nearly as good as Dido Sotiriou."
"[Birds Without Wings] bears de Bernières’ literary hallmarks — vast emotional breadth, dazzling characterization, rich historical detail (and gruesome battle scenes), swerving between languid sensuality and horror, humour and choking despair."
—Scotland on Sunday
"He is to be understood not as a one-hit wonder who arrived from nowhere one year and then disappeared, generating whispers of writer's block for the next 10, but as a prolific and ambitious writer with a rather astonishing body of work, notable for its dense lyricism, fierce wisdom, soaring passion and remarkable wit. In this tradition, Birds Without Wings is pure de Bernières."
—The Globe and Mail
"This is one of the great novels about the early 20th century and the emerging modern world, an epic of human disaster, on small and grand scales. Against the background of the collapsing Ottoman Empire, armies march, populations flee, and mountains of corpses lie rotting, the landscapes of horror brought fully to our imaginations in terms so visceral we could weep. . . . One of the most profound and moving books you're likely to read."
—The New Zealand Herald
"The most eagerly awaited novel of the year. . . . In counterpoint to the varieties of love, Birds Without Wings delivers the hideous violence of mechanised warfare. Its 100-page centrepiece, in which Karatavuk (“Blackbird”) recounts the terror, squalor and fitful heroism of the Gallipoli campaign, will have critics reaching for their War and Peace. In truth, de Bernières . . . is too centrifugal and carnivalesque a novelist for the Tolstoy comparison. However, he makes of the carnage a mesmerising patchwork of horror, humour and humanity."
"[Birds Without Wings] bears de Bernières’ literary hallmarks — vast emotional breadth, dazzling characterisation, rich historical detail (and gruesome battle scenes), swerving between languid sensuality and horror, humour and choking despair."
—Scotland on Sunday
"Dazzling. . .a fabulous book in the tradition of Tolstoy and Dickens. . . . So joyous and heartbreaking, so rich and musical and wise, that reading it is like discovering anew the enchanting power of fiction."
—San Francisco Chronicle
"Louis de Bernières is in the direct line that runs through Dickens and Evelyn Waugh. . .he has only to look into his world, one senses, for it to rush into reality, colours and touch and taste."
—A. S. Byatt
Praise for Captain Corelli's Mandolin:
"Captain Corelli's Mandolin is an emotional, funny, stunning novel which swings with wide smoothness between joy and bleakness, personal lives and history...it's lyrical and angry, satirical and earnest."
"From the very first paragraph one regrets that 434 pages are not going to be enough...a humanist epic told with such sparkling intelligence, sympathy and control that you can only grovel at the author's feet."
“Brims with all the grand topics of literature — love and death, heroism and skull-duggery, humor and pathos, not to mention art and religion.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“A wonderful, hypnotic novel of fabulous scope and tremendous iridescent charm.”