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Birdsong (Vintage War) Paperback – 7 Jul 1994

795 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (7 July 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099387913
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099387916
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 3.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (795 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 94,778 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Readers who are entranced by sweeping historical sagas will devour Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks' drama set during the first world war. There's even a little high-toned erotica thrown into the mix to convince the doubtful. The book's hero, a 20-year-old Englishman named Stephen Wraysford, finds his true love on a trip to Amiens in 1910. Unfortunately, she's already married, the wife of a wealthy textile baron. Wrayford convinces her to leave a life of passionless comfort to be at his side, but things do not turn out according to plan. Wraysford is haunted by this doomed affair and carries it with him into the trenches of the war. Birdsong derives most of its power from its descriptions of mud and blood, and Wraysford's attempt to retain a scrap of humanity while surrounded by it. There is a simultaneous description of his present-day granddaughter's quest to read his diaries, which is designed to give some sense of perspective; this device is only somewhat successful. Nevertheless, Birdsong is a rewarding read, an unflinching war story and a touching romance.


"Magnificent - deeply moving" (Sunday Times)

"With Birdsong Faulks has produced a mesmerizing story of love and war... This book is so powerful that as I finished it I turned to the front to start again" (Sunday Express)

"Engrossing, moving, and unforgettable" (The Times)

"One of the finest novels of the last forty years" (Mail on Sunday)

"Amazing... 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" (Daily Mail)

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

165 of 167 people found the following review helpful By Carole Eva on 17 Jan. 2008
Format: Paperback
I read Birdsong about 14 years ago, when it was first published in paperback; it must have impressed me because it stayed on my bookshelf rather than being passed on. This second reading has reminded me why I kept it - it has to be one of the most haunting novels I've ever read, and it kept me reading well into the small hours! The early chapters deal with a love affair in which the author so clearly recreates the sense of overwhelming desire and reckless behaviour that accompanies true passion. This, however, is only the start of Stephen Wraysford's story, for we soon move on to his involvement as a young officer in the First World War and this, for me, is what makes the novel such an amazing work. Knowing that the fiction was based on real events, together with the vivid descriptions, makes the story so very moving. It's not just a chronicle of events though, Sebastian Faulks is a master of detail, which makes the readers feel they're actually there, in the mud of Flanders - there were times when I too held my breath and envisaged how the fear must have felt. The penultimate chapter was so moving, it reduced me to tears and this, for me, is unusual! Reading and remembering the words of old men from my childhood, it's hard to believe that little more than 20 years later, man embarked on a Second World War and, after both those events, it seems incredible that man has still not learned his lesson! I would urge everyone to read this novel, and if you've already done so, then read it again!
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By on 31 Aug. 2001
Format: Paperback
Reading "Birdsong" is not an easy job. The novel is almost self-consciously literary at first and the romance that opens it is couched in terms that manage to be both explicit and prissy simultaneously. Erotic it may well be (it might even be sexy); affectionate it certainly isn't. The frost only starts to thaw when the narrative duties are passed from orphan, illicit lover and officer Stephen Weir to father, husband and trench miner Jack Firebrace. The rhythm Faulks establishes between Firebrace, Weir and a third character, Elizabeth Beresford, is the heartbeat of a novel that so desperately needs a heart to relieve its uncompromising evocation of The Great War and the alienation it causes in characters with little to offer in reply to its horrors. "Birdsong" could easily have been a confirmation of that observation by Wilfred Owen in "Futility" that the very existence of war is a nihilist argument, that if bored snipers will shoot casually at the shattered skull of a soldier long dead on the wire(as they do in "Birdsong")then we're kidding ourselves if we think humanity is worth anything. "Birdsong" could have been a confirmation of that, but Faulks' triumph is that it isn't. Despite or because of the horrors, it champions endurance (however pointless), understanding (however partial), peace (however facile) and love (however imperfect). To reach that kind of conclusion without a trace of sentimentality or compromise against the full blast of The Great War and what it tells us about ourselves is a genuine literary achievement. "Birdsong" is a great novel and I shall certainly read everything else Faulks has written.
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90 of 94 people found the following review helpful By Mr Colin H Harnett on 25 Aug. 2004
Format: Hardcover
This a such a powerful war novel.
I will justify this statement, not by repeating the things other people have said but through highlighting just one passage that really moved me.
This is when Michael Weir - Stephen Wraysford's closest wartime friend - goes home on leave to his parents in Leamington Spar. Weir has experienced death, squalor, disease, and utter degredation in the trenches. Yet his family cannot understand or respond when he tries to convey these experiences to them. It is beyond their imagination - as it is ours - that men could tolerate such conditions. Instead we see his parents treating him as if he has just been up to town for the week. They rebuke him, for example, for not telling them exactly the time he would be arriving. His mother fusses over him like a child: "You look a bit thin, Michael. What have they been feeding you on over in France?" You sense Weir's desperation as he realises that he cannot communicate any of the reality of the war to his family. This is so moving and heart-wrending. One can really believe that it was like that for so many men and their families when the war, for the British people, was "over there".
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By josh on 27 Jan. 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
The book does actually start out as an "intensely romantic" love story. There are almost romance novel worthy (or, really, not being one to read romance novels, what I expect are romance novel worthy) scenes describing the illicit relationship of the main character, Stephen, with his host's wife. After the first section of the book, however, all romance departs as we are plunged into the grimy, depressing, and hopeless trenches of the First World War. The previous romance is barely alluded to; instead, we are swept up in the futile existence of British troops manning the trenches, digging tunnels for mines, and being blown up my enemy shells.

To the author's credit, these descriptions are so vivid that it is possible to imagine what war meant for the soldiers on the front lines. And most heartbreakingly, it is possible to imagine the enormous waste of human lives due to command ineptitude at the Battle of the Somme as wave after wave of young men slowly marched across no man's land to their inevitable demise. In that respect, the novel is not pretty. It is not romantic. It is intensely realistic. And that, perhaps, is what makes the novel worth reading. Because, as a character living fifty years later in the 1970s points out, even then we had already forgotten the wretchedness of trench warfare and the unspeakable horror the soldiers endured on a daily basis.

And so, Birdsong is not intensely romantic. There is romance at the beginning and the end, but it seems disjointed and almost indecent. Towards the end of the novel, one of the characters welcomes death because after what he has seen, he can't imagine going back to his wife and resuming a normal life.
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