Birds Without Wings [NOOK Book]

Overview

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 ...
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Birds Without Wings

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Overview

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.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
“Destiny caresses the few, but molests the many,” a proverb-prone narrator reflects as he begins the story of Eskibahçe, a small town in Anatolia, and of its inhabitants’ fate in the turmoil of the early twentieth century. After generations of cheerful intermingling, the town’s Muslim Turks, Christian Greeks, and Armenians are divided by the First World War and then by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. De Bernières gamely tries to illustrate the human cost—a complex series of migrations and persecutions—through a cast of endearing, folksy characters. He interleaves the narratives with the biography of Kemal Atatürk. But history, in this case, may be too vast for his approach; despite many affecting moments, both the big picture and the small stories are lost in an overwhelming sprawl.
Nicholas Gage
… in his compassionate portrayal of simple people struggling against sweeping historical forces and his vivid descriptions of the cruelties of war, de Bernières has reached heights that few modern novelists ever attempt. While Birds Without Wings can be confusing and meandering at times, it offers a thrilling ride through a whirlwind of history that changed forever a pivotal part of our world.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
It's been nearly a decade since Captain Corelli's Mandolin became a word-of-mouth bestseller (and then a major feature film), and devotees will eagerly dig into de Bernieres' sweeping historical follow-up. This time the setting is the small Anatolian town of Eskibah e, in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. The large cast of characters of intermixed Turkish, Greek and Armenian descent includes breathtakingly lovely Philothei, a Christian girl, and her beloved Ibrahim, the childhood friend and Muslim to whom she is betrothed. The narrative immediately sets up Philothei's death and Ibrahim's madness as the focal tragedy caused by the sweep of history-but this is a bit of a red herring. Various first-person voices alternate in brief chapters with an authorial perspective that details the interactions of the town's residents as the region is torn apart by war; a parallel set of chapters follows the life of Kemal Ataterk, who established Turkey as a modern, secular country. The necessary historical information can be tedious, and stilted prose renders some key characters (like Philothei) one-dimensional. But when de Bernieres relaxes his grip on the grand sweep of history-as he does with the lively and affecting anecdotes involving the Muslim landlord Rustem Bey and his wife and mistress-the results resonate with the very personal consequences that large-scale change can effect. Though some readers may balk at the novel's sheer heft, the reward is an effective and moving portrayal of a way of life-and lives-that might, if not for Bernieres's careful exposition and imagination, be lost to memory forever. Agent, Lavinia Trevor. (Aug.) Forecast: Corelli had the advantage of WWII, a prominent love story and a movie tie-in; this book's period and setting are less familiar. Still, readers who enjoyed Corelli will be likely to give it a chance. 10-city author tour. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In the ten years since his international best seller Corelli's Mandolin, English novelist de Berni res has truly steeped himself in the culture and history of southwestern Turkey. The result is an absorbing, polyvocal epic centered on a charming coastal Anatolian village where religious and ethnic harmony is shattered by World War I and the subsequent internecine slaughter during which Ottomans become Turks; Turkish-speaking Greek Orthodox Christians become forced exiles, replaced by Greek-speaking Muslims from Crete; and Armenians become victims. This novel emphasizes the brutalities and stupidities of modern warfare (notably at the battle of Gallipoli) even more emphatically than de Berni res's magic realist debut, The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts. About a dozen characters tell their quasi-picaresque stories in short chapters interpolated by an amusing, highly anecdotal sketch of the brilliant career of Mustapha Kemal, later called Atat rk, founder of the modern Turkish nation, who, in abolishing the fez "becomes the only dictator in the history of the world with a profound grasp of the semiotics of headwear." Vivid characterization, wry humor, believable bawdiness, pathos, and trenchant observations of the perils of empire and nation building make this a strongly recommended selection for all historical fiction collections. Mark Andr Singer, Mechanics' Inst. Lib., San Francisco Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The popular British author's first since the huge international success of Corelli's Mandolin (1994) is an epic chronicle of the making of modern Turkey. And it's the story of the destruction of an ethnically mixed population (including Greek, Armenian, and Turkish Christians and Muslims) who had coexisted harmoniously until the militant nationalism of warrior-politician Mustafa Kemal, a.k.a. "Ataturk" (whose history is nestled among several brother narratives), triggered wholesale atrocities and mass deportations. The novel ranges from the late-19th-century Ottoman Empire to the early 1920s and the memories of those who survive beyond them, and is centered in the village of Eskibahce in southwestern Anatolia. The lack of a central plot, frustrating in itself, is somewhat assuaged by the varied, colorful voices of de Bernieres' several narrators. Prominent among them are stoical Iskander the Potter, a repository of indigenous folklore and wisdom; impossibly beautiful Greek girl Philothei, whose thwarted love for Muslim goatherd Ibrahim forms a paradigm for their cultures' struggles; wealthy merchant Rustum Bey, who kills his faithless wife Tamara's lover and consigns her to public stoning, before embarking on a voyage to Istanbul that culminates in a complex relationship with his Circassian mistress Leyla; and Iskander's son Karavatuk, who forms an unlikely friendship with Philothei's brother Mehmetcik, and later narrates an enthralling (if overlong) account of his wartime experiences, notably the historic carnage of Gallipoli. Birds Without Wings also features beguiling interpolated stories, notably that of Yusuf the Tall, who commands his son to kill his promiscuous daughter, thendeclares himself a murderer. Unfortunately, it also contains numerous passages of authorial moralizing about "nationalism and religion . . . [and the] evil . . . " they produce, as well as interminable variations on the metaphors of men as wingless birds and birds as frail, defenseless victims. It would be foolish to deny that there are great things herein, but their author's laboriously shouldered agenda goes a long way toward undermining them. Enormously readable, intermittently brilliant, honorably conceived and felt-and very deeply flawed.
From the Publisher
“Astonishing, and compulsively readable.” — Los Angeles Times Book Review"Fascinating, evocative. . . . Rich and compelling. . . . A thrilling ride through a whirlwind of history. . . . De Bernifires has reached heights that few modern novelists ever attempt." —The Washington Post"Engrossing. . . . The prose is gorgeous. . . . Everyone in this cast of characters is someone memorable, and their lives and fates intertwine to make a marvelously engaging story of a village." —Chicago Tribune"Marvelous. . . . Breathtaking. . . . Heartbreaking yet resplendent. . . . De Bernières masterfully explores the terrible price of love, politics and war. . . . [He is] a magnificent storyteller." —The Miami Herald"A masterpiece. . . . Display[s] de Bernières' remarkable literary voice: erudite, compelling, witty." —USA Today"An absorbing epic. . . . De Bernifires [is] adept at juxtaposing brutality with episodes of high comedy or romance." —The New York Times Book Review"A sweeping account of the rise of modern Turkey and the last days of the Ottoman Empire. In an intensely personal way, [de Bernifires] shows how these historic changes affected the inhabitants of Eskibahçe . . . and in a more global way . . . how misplaced imperial aspirations and gratuitous war can devastate ordinary people." —Newsday"Beguiling. . . . Startlingly unique. . . . De Bernières is so inventive—celebratory but never sentimental." —Newsweek"A literary triumph. . . . Louis de Bernières [may be] the next Leo Tolstoy." —Seattle Post-Intelligencer"Lovely. . . . Epic in scope and with a clear message: Peace is a more livable climate than war, and the political aspirations of power mongers waste the lives of the humble populace." —Oregonian"The most eagerly awaited novel of the year . . . . A mesmerizing patchwork of horror, humor and humanity." —Independent (UK)"De Bernières is at his finest when he allows us to experience the 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"Fine-grained prose that moves with the measured grace of a 19th century novel." —San Francisco Chronicle"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. . . . Do read it before you die. It would be a terrible thing to have missed a work of such importance, beauty and compassion." —The Globe and Mail"An absorbing read about a remote but captivating time. The Ottoman world's break-up is a rich, poignant story, and Mr. de Bernifires is a good storyteller." —The Economist"De Bernières has a gift for irony, a sure hand for fast-moving plots . . . a talent for bringing the written word to life, and a delicious sense of the absurd." —Washington Times "Rich prose and vivid descriptions. . . . De Bernières writes powerfully of the savagery of war." —Pittsburg Tribune-Review"A magnificent, poetic, colossal novel, filled with wry, poignant stories. . . . Louis de Bernières' rapaciously sensuous writing makes the pages of this book crackle with heat and resonate with birdsong. . . . 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"A vast book, told in de Bernières' signature style . . . . We feel everything through a host of vivid, moving, and often amusing characters." —San Jose Mercury News “Unites the chimerical poetry of Gabriel Garcia Marquez with the fine-grained domesticity of Trollope. . . . de Bernières . . . can move seamlessly from humor to poignancy and from easy charm to a searing anger.” —Financial Times"Enchanting. . . . At once intimate and sweeping. . . . At a time when the hypocrisy of modern invasions and of simplistic caricatures of other faiths circulates all too easily, this book offers a timely message to us all." —The Sydney Morning Herald"Bears de Bernières' literary hallmarks—vast emotional breadth, dazzling characterization, [and] rich historical detail . . . swerving between languid sensuality and horror, humor and choking despair." —Scotland on Sunday"Rendered in greater detail and with greater emotional impact than the prize-winning author has accomplished in any of his previous work." —Richmond Times-Dispatch"Operatic. . . . Splendid, lyrical. . . . De Bernières is a writer who can make you want to turn the page to find out what happens. . . . He has a blockbuster audacity in bringing together elements that work." —The Age
"Stunning. . . . Haunting. . . . Both exotically remote and tragically relevant. . . . So much is remarkable about this novel, from the heft of its history to the power of its legends. . . . A deeply rewarding work." —The Anchorage Press"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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307424990
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/18/2007
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 576
  • Sales rank: 93,526
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

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.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
The Prologue of Iskander the Potter

The people who remained in this place have often asked themselves why it was that Ibrahim went mad. I am the only one who knows, but I have always been committed to silence, because he begged me to respect his grief, or, as he also put it, to take pity upon his guilt. Now that he is mad, and the sun has long since dried the rain that washed away the blood upon the rocks, and there is almost no one left who recalls the lovely Philothei, it seems to me that no one would be betrayed if finally the truth of it were known. With us there has been so much blood that in restrospect none of it seems believable, and it cannot matter much if finally I tell of the last misfortune that fell upon Philothei, sweet-natured, Christian, vain and beautiful.

There comes a point in life where each one of us who survives begins to feel like a ghost that has forgotten to die at the right time, and certainly most of us were more amusing when we were young. It seems that age folds the heart in on itself. Some of us walk detached, dreaming on the past, and some of us realise that we have lost the trick of standing in the sun. For many of us the thought of the future is a cause for irritation rather than optimism, as if we have had enough of new things, and wish only for the long sleep that rounds the edges of our lives. I feel this weariness myself.

We are in any case a serious people here. Life was merrier when the Christians were still among us, not least because almost every one of their days was the feast of some saint. Little work was done, it seemed, but at least their revelry was infectious. Our religion makes us grave and thoughtful, dignified and melancholy, whereas theirs did not exact much discipline. Perhaps it was something to do with the wine. For them it was a precious and sacred thing, because they thought it was something like the blood of God, whereas for us the pleasure of it has always been soured since the Prophet of God forbad it. Peace be upon him, but I have often wished that he had decided otherwise. We drink, but we dislike ourselves in drinking. Sometimes we did drink with our Christians, and caught their high spirits in the same way that one catches malaria from the chill night air, but, left on our own now, there is a sadness seeping out of the stones of this half-deserted town.

Ibrahim the Mad was one of our most entertaining when he was young. It was said that there was a smile at the corners of his lips from the moment of his birth, and from early boyhood he was a specialist in inappropriate interjections. To be precise, he perfected a repertoire of bleats that exactly mimicked the stupid comments of a goat in all its various states of mind; a goat that is surprised, a goat that is looking for its kid, a goat that is protesting, a goat that is hungry, a goat that is perplexed, a goat that is in rut. His most popular bleat, however, was that of a goat that has nothing to say. This bleat was the perfect parody of unintelligence, empty-headedness, inanity and harmlessness. If you want to know what it sounded like, just go up past the ancient tombs to where the limepit is. It is in the wild ground near there that Ibrahim the Mad still watches the goats, even though he is no longer sane. You should beware of his great dog. It is a very fine animal that takes each goat back to its owner every evening, without Ibrahim the Mad having to do anything at all, but it is a somewhat ready-fanged dog that recognises a stranger straight away by the smell. If you cannot find Ibrahim there, then listen for the sound of the kaval, and follow it. He blows it so sadly that it makes you stand still and go into mourning. He does not bleat himself any more, but listens to the goats as they wander from shrub to shrub, and you will soon recognise the bleat of a goat with nothing to say.

Ibrahim used to do it quite suddenly in the middle of a conversation, or at a solemn moment in a ceremony, and when he was a small boy his father used to beat him for it. One day he even interrupted the imam, Abdulhamid Hodja, who was making some interminable point about the law, which was one of his habits, may he rest in paradise. This was under the plane trees where the old men sit in the meydan. Anyway, Ibrahim crept up behind a tree — he was about eight years old — and bleated quite suddenly when everyone else was listening quietly and respectfully. There was a shocked silence, and then Ibrahim giggled and ran away. The men looked at each other, and Ibrahim’s father leapt to his feet, his face flushed with anger and shame. But Abdulhamid was a good-natured man who was naturally dignified enough not to have to be concerned about offences against his dignity, and he put his hand on the other’s sleeve. “Don’t strike him,” he said. “I was bleating myself, and now someone else should have the chance to speak.” Ibrahim’s father was called Ali the Broken-Nosed.

The men were puzzled by the imam’s tolerance of such disrespect, but the word spread that the imam considered that there was something providential in the irreverence of the boy, so from then onwards his mischief was accepted as one of the normal hazards of life. Back in those days Ibrahim was a friend of my son, Karatavuk, and I can truly say that he was not mad at all, he was merely framed by God in a comical way. If you want to see him as he is now, you don’t have to go up to the tombs, now that I come to think of it. Just wait until he returns with the goats, and the great dog delivers them home for the night. Ibrahim the Mad knows the name of each goat, but apart from that his head is empty enough to rent.

They say that, for a madman, every day is a holiday, but they also say that insanity has seventy gates. It is true that many of the mad are happy, as you can see by the idiots of this town who sit on the walls and grin and piss themselves, but I know that the gate through which Ibrahim travelled was the gate of unconquerable sorrow, and that his mind remains a cataract of grief. I think that back in those days many of us were maddened by hatred because of the war with the Greeks, and in all honesty I include myself, but Ibrahim was the one among us whose mind was disengaged by love.

Ibrahim blamed himself, and if I had been one of her brothers or one of her other relatives, I would have come back from exile and killed him. The peculiar thing is, however, that nothing would have happened to Philothei at all, if other things had not been happening in the great world. So it is my opinion that the blame belongs more widely, not only to Ibrahim but to all of us who lived in this place, as well as to those in other parts who were bloodthirsty and ambitious.

In those days we came to hear of many other countries that had never figured in our lives before. It was a rapid education, and many of us are still confused. We knew that our Christians were sometimes called “Greeks,” although we often called them “dogs” or “infidels,” but in a manner that was a formality, or said with a smile, just as were their deprecatory terms for us. They would call us “Turks” in order to insult us, at the time when we called ourselves “Ottomans” or “Osmanlis.” Later on it turned out that we really are “Turks,” and we became proud of it, as one does of new boots that are uncomfortable at first, but then settle into the feet and look exceedingly smart. Be that as it may, one day we discovered that there actually existed a country called “Greece” that wanted to own this place, and do away with us, and take away our land. We knew of Russians before, because of other wars, but who were these Italians? Who were these other Frankish people? Suddenly we heard of people called “Germans,” and people called “French,” and of a place called Britain that had governed half the world without us knowing of it, but it was never explained to us why they had chosen to come and bring us hardship, starvation, bloodshed and lamentation, why they played with us and martyred our tranquillity.

I blame these Frankish peoples, and I blame potentates and pashas whose names I will probably never know, and I blame men of God of both faiths, and I blame all those who gave their soldiers permission to behave like wolves and told them that it was necessary and noble. Because of what I accidentally did to my son Karatavuk, I was in my own small way one of these wolves, and I am now burned up by shame. In the long years of those wars here were too many who learned how to make their hearts boil with hatred, how to betray their neighbours, how to violate women, how to steal and dispossess, how to call upon God when they did the Devil’s work, how to enrage and embitter themselves, and how to commit outrages even against children. Much of what was done was simply in revenge for identical atrocities, but I tell you now that even if guilt were a coat of sable, and the ground were deep in snow, I would rather freeze than wear it.

But I do not blame merely myself, or the powerful, or my fellow Anatolians, or the savage Greeks. I also blame mischance. Destiny caresses the few, but molests the many, and finally every sheep will hang by its own foot on the butcher’s hook, just as every grain of wheat arrives at the millstone, no matter where it grew.

It is strange indeed that if you should wish me to tell you how one young Christian woman died by accident in this unremarkable place, you must also be told of great men like Mustafa Kemal, and little men like me, and you must also be told the story of upheavals and wars. There is, it seems, a natural perversity in the nature of fate, just as there is a natural perversity in ourselves.

I wonder sometimes whether there are times when God sleeps or averts His eyes, or if there is a divine perversity. Who knows why one day a man drowns because a deep hole has been carved in the fording place of a river, where men have passed safely for centuries, and there was no hole before?

To speak selfishly, let me say that what remains with me, and hurts me, after the memory of the cruelty and unreason has been laid aside, is the pain of having maimed my favourite son, Karatavuk. I will always be pained by the manner of his wounding, because I brought it on him by my own hastiness, and this after he had managed to survive eight years of war unscathed! It is astounding that I did not fall mad like Ibrahim. I think of my son constantly, with his upright nature, his great loyalty and his excellent humour, and I am proud that he has been able to find an honourable way to earn his living, now that he cannot follow in my footsteps as a potter.

There are many here who say we are better off without the Christians who used to live here, but as for me, I miss the old life of my town, and I miss the Christians. Without them our life has less variety, and we are forgetting how to look at others and see ourselves. Also, since they took their icon of Mary Mother of Jesus with them, there are some who think that we have had less good luck than we did before.

I am a potter, but I am also renowned as a maker of proverbs. I have noticed that when the Christians were here I invented light-hearted proverbs, but now that they have gone, I invent serious ones.

Since those times of whirlwind the world has learned over and over again that the wounds of the ancestors make the children bleed. I do not know if anyone will ever be forgiven, or if the harm that was done will ever be undone. Enough of this, however. The story begins, and he who slaps his own face should not cry out.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Introduction

WHITBREAD AWARD FINALIST
A Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller

“A quite astonishing, and compulsively readable, tour de force. . . . De Bernières’s subtly differentiated characters attach themselves to us and won’t let go.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enliven your group’s discussion of Birds Without Wings, Louis de Bernières’s eagerly awaited follow-up to the acclaimed Corelli’s Mandolin. By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Birds Without Wings is a hugely ambitious novel about the pleasures of peace, the meaning of home, and the foolishness and fratricide of war. In its rich tapestry of scenes and characters, it encompasses the whole range of human emotions and behaviors, from the most savagely cruel to the most selflessly compassionate.

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Foreword

1. Why has Louis de Bernières chosen Birds Without Wings as his title? What actual and symbolic roles do birds play in the book? What does Karatavuk mean when he writes at the end of the novel, “We were birds without wings. . . . Because we cannot fly we are condemned to do things that do not agree with us” [p. 550–551]?

2. The setting of Birds Without Wings is an early twentieth-century Turkish village. How, despite its distant setting, does the novel mirror the contemporary world? In what way is the world of the novel vastly different from the world today?

3. In his prologue, Iskander the Potter says that he misses the Christians after they were removed from Eskibahçe: “Without them our life has less variety, and we are forgetting how to look at others and see ourselves” [p. 7]. Why does he feel that the presence of “others” allowed the villagers to see themselves? Why is the loss of variety so important? Why were so many different kinds of people able to live together in Eskibahçe so peacefully?

4. What makes Eskibahçe such a marvelously colorful village? Who are some of its most eccentric and engaging characters? How does the village change over the course of the novel?

5. The novel vividly describes the nationalist fervor that swept the world in the early twentieth century: “Serbia for the Serbs, Bulgaria for the Bulgarians, Greece for the Greeks, Turks and Jews out!” [p. 16] What causes these feelings? What are their ultimate consequences?

6. After Ayse and Polyxeni convince the reluctant Daskalos Leonidas to write a message in tears on the wings of a dove,which they hope will fly to Polyxeni’s dead mother, Ayse exclaims, “It’s incredible! A man with that much education, and he didn’t even know about how to get a message to the dead” [p. 77]. What does this scene suggest about the gulf between traditional and modern ways of understanding the world?

7. On the way to Smyrna, Iskander prefaces his story by saying, “The thing about stories is that they are like bindweeds that have to wind round and round and creep all over the place before they get to the top of the pole” [p. 128]. Is what Iskander says here true of the novel itself? How does the story line “creep all over the place”?

8. What kind of man is Mustafa Kemal? How does he achieve his great military success? What are the ultimate consequences of his actions?

9. Leyla tells Rustem Bey that the women in town are saying he is a bad master because he doesn’t beat her [p. 228]. What does this passage suggest about the relationship between women and men in the novel? What roles are women expected to play? In what ways are they oppressed by their culture?

10. What are the most horrific aspects of war as they are described in Birds Without Wings? What are its greatest cruelties? What surprising acts of compassion do the soldiers perform for one another and even for their enemies? How does war affect the village of Eskibahçe?

11. Why does de Bernières use different narrators and different points of view in the novel? Does this multiplicity of voices mirror some of the novel’s main themes?

12. What is the significance of the relationships between Philothei and Ibrahim and between Karatavuk and Mehmetçik? Why are these young people so drawn to each other despite their religious differences?

13. Can Birds Without Wings be read as a cautionary tale for our own times? What does the novel say about the larger themes of love and war, revenge and forgiveness, both toward oneself and others?

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Reading Group Guide

WHITBREAD AWARD FINALIST
A Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller

“A quite astonishing, and compulsively readable, tour de force. . . . De Bernières’s subtly differentiated characters attach themselves to us and won’t let go.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enliven your group’s discussion of Birds Without Wings, Louis de Bernières’s eagerly awaited follow-up to the acclaimed Corelli’s Mandolin. By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, Birds Without Wings is a hugely ambitious novel about the pleasures of peace, the meaning of home, and the foolishness and fratricide of war. In its rich tapestry of scenes and characters, it encompasses the whole range of human emotions and behaviors, from the most savagely cruel to the most selflessly compassionate.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 24 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 1, 2009

    Superb telling of a forgotten period of history, except by those who actively experienced it.

    This book tells the story of the Smyrna inhabitants and the population exchange which forged the new Turkish and Greek nations. It should be read by people who are deeply interested in the lessons of history. The characters live forever.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2007

    Never enjoyed a book more.

    The most ambitious in its effort to sort out a hundred years of the history of a region that has seen the tides of history for 6000 years. It will be hard for me ever to use the word, Epic, ever again with having this book in mind. Through the eyes a dozen simple yet exquisitely drawn characters we come to grasp the political ambitions of wannabe expansionist countries (leadership), the unabashed imperialism of others, their manipulation of religious movements whose differences are felt by leaders if never by their followers. The entire range of human emotion are wrenched from the characters as they are conscripted into wars most horrible and struggles of juxtaposed cultures. The culture clashes are depicted to be convenient to the propaganda of national leaders if not felt by the people themselves. Awesome to attempt such an ambitious task. Even more to accomplish it. The book¿s greatest lesson, not to blame generations of people for the egotistic stupidity of a few of its leaders. Even as the political leaders of today repeat the mistakes of history.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Wonderful yet sad

    This novel of epic proportions is set in a small village in the Ottoman empire, on the brink of civil war. For generations, the peoples of the village have intermingled and intermarried. Even their religions have somewhat blended, with Muslims praying to the Christian saints, and Christians upholding some of the Muslims beliefs. It's a peaceful and quaint town that time has forgotten.

    Soon great changes come to the region, in the way of war and destruction. The village and it's occupants realize that life, unfortunately, often changes even when you don't want it to.

    I thought this book was extremely well written, and that the story very moving and sad. It's one of those books that really make you ponder just how unfair and random life can be.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 27, 2011

    Fascinating View of a Complex Period of History

    I read this book because we are soon traveling to Greece and Turkey. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Though there is not the usual cast of main characters, I became completely and emotionally involved in the story of what happens in the village while being quite informed about this very complex period of history. At first, I wasn't sure I could keep the historical events straight as they are so complicated. But through masterful writing, Mr. De Bernieres draws you into the political machinations of the various groups involved and the tragic results for everyone who had to "wade in lakes of blood" A fine book indeed!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2011

    Awesome book

    The author has painted a beautiful picture of turkey!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2007

    Birds Without Wings

    Though it is a long read, more like an epic tome, you will come to love each of the characters like they were your own family. No one can fully write a character better than LdB, that's what makes his novels extraordinary and worth the investment in reading. LdB must have experienced some sort of loss in his life to write about it so well, so complete. He nails it. I do agree that the plot could be a bit more developed, but I think that adds to its charm. It doesn't come across as just a story 'not quite as fantastic', but more like a real history. I recommend you read Captain Corelli's Mandolin first and then read this one. Corelli is a bit more light-hearted, and he links the two books together 'very clever'.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2005

    Destined to be one of the great books about the early twentieth century

    I simply implore you to read this epic masterpiece. Its story details in both a grand and small way how a small village must cope with the coming of the ¿modern¿ world and the fall of the Ottoman Empire. De Bernieres last book, CORNELLIS MANDOLIN was also a masterpiece (forget about the movie please), and I think this new volume is even more powerful Filled as it is with lush language, a multitiude of fully developed characters all as vivid as your best friend. This is a bit of history each of us must and should know about as it is a disaster caused by outsiders and an emerging new world order. Like Dr. Zhivargo, these villagers just wish to live their lives, worship, and work and enjoy the beauty that is this are of the Empire. They all get along and our tolerant of each other, Christian and Muslim, Greek and Armenian. Only a few dream dreams of old empires lost. The narrative drive is all Mr. De Bernieres but he does it though many voices as most chapters are told by characters in the story. One even told by a drowning man while he is drowning quite effective, inventive and marvelously readable. And yes, like real life, there are frustrations as character come and go and sometimes you never do learn their fates. I would venture to say this book has to be destined to be one of the great books about the early twentieth century. (It reminded me, in part, of a cross between Sebastian Faulks masterful BIRDSONG and Ursula Heigi¿s excellent STONES FROM THE RIVER.)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2004

    An enchanting lesson about history and the world

    While BWW starts off rather slowly, it soon becomes one of those books that the one cannot put down. Though I'd agree with some critics that it is not plot driven, I think this is part of the book's strength, rather than a flaw. BWW weaves its way through the years preceding and following WWI via many smaller, engaging stories. Like in the writer's other books, there is a myriad of vibrant characters and through them reader is able to more genuinely connect with the tragedy that befalls this Ottoman community as its world vanishes. This is a really wonderful and informative book. I was very sad when it was over.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2004

    Ambitious, Sprawling, Almost Great

    Like Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Birds Without Wings is an almost great novel. In Corelli, de Bernieres kept his head until the last 80 pages. Here, his ambition gets the best of him early. There are so many threads, such a dizzying array of characters and storylines, that it's easy to get lost in the sprawl. This is not so much a novel as a platter of delicious vignettes -- but delicious they are. de Bernieres is a fabulous writer, and a master at interpreting history into human terms. In this case, it's the death of an empire and the birth of a nation that comes to life -- and all of the people in between.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2004

    A truly great novel.

    This is the best novel I've read this year by far. Both intimate and epic, sad, touching and funny. It's extremely rare that a novel makes me cry, but this one did. I also felt a sense of loss at the end. I liked Correlli's Mandolin, but this is several orders of magnitude better. The plot deals with a part of history that most westerners know little about, as well as the rise of one of history's true revolutionaries, Kemal Ataturk. The intimate part of the novel is how the actions of those in power affect the lives of those living in a small Turkish village. The writing in this novel is so fine, luminous even, that I would highly recommend it even to someone completely uninterested in Turkey or Greece. Please read this novel. I PROMISE you'll be glad you did.

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    Posted April 6, 2010

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    Posted October 29, 2010

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    Posted March 15, 2012

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    Posted July 4, 2011

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    Posted May 13, 2011

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    Posted January 11, 2014

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    Posted October 16, 2011

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    Posted March 25, 2011

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    Posted February 19, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2009

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