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81 of 83 people found the following review helpful
on 29 November 2005
Only the 2nd stand alone i've read of Wilbur. I must admit that when starting this book, i had quite high expectations since i'd heard it was one of his best.
I can say now that i was not disappointed in the slightest. In fact i was even taken aback a little by its brilliance. This is definitely one book not to miss out on.
Split into 2 parts, the 1st is set in the modern era (1970's) in Southern Africa. We follow the gifted, intelligent but physically deformed (Hunchback) Dr. Ben Kazin and his rich and handsome friend Louren. They share a passion for lost civilisations and archietecture. So when the red cliffs of Botswanaland show a potental sectet to an ancient civilisation and culture, Dr. Kazin thinks that this could be the one, the chance of a liftime, to realise his dreams. Both set of to try and uncover any leads. These efforts are constantly disrupted by many things, namely Terrorists, Violence, Greed and Love.
Even if this doesn't sound like your cup of tea, the way Wilbur writes it eventually weaves some kind of magic spell on you and you are swept into the world of these 2 characters and their dreams. The main character Ben is brought to life so well that you begin to share his passions, happiness, weakness and ambitions with him.
The 2nd part of the book goes back 2000 years and introduces us to the civilisation of Opet. Here our main hero is a courageous, well loved priest/war veterain named Huy Ben-Amon. His close friend is the King of Opet, Lannon. Their civilisation rules the southern continent but a potentially hostile enemy is lurking in the North. Due to their cruelty and complaciency overall as a society, Opet comes under threat by a seemingly unstoppable and relentless foe.
I don't want to talk about the 2nd part in any more detail othewise i might give something away. All i can say is that this part of the book is quite sensational. This has to be Wilbur at his very best.
I found the 1st part of the book very good, but its the 2nd part that makes the Sunbird so special, the way it brings both parts together, making this a right classic!
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 23 November 2001
I have read the Sunbird three times until now (once in English and twice in Greek) and every time I finish it I want to read it again. Admittedly the beginning isn't very exciting. After a certain point though Smith's narration attains some kind of magic and you find yourself in another dimension. The writing is so natural and balanced that makes the book almost a classic. The story also is wonderful and manages to appeal like an ancient Greek tragedy or a Shaekspearean play. The characters, especially Dr. Kajin, are so well given that make you share their passions, weaknesess and ambitions. 'The Sunbird', I think, is the kind of book that all the equivalent should have as reference.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 3 July 2000
Smith shows just how good a writer he really is. This amazing example of his work brings together the exitement of modern day Africa and the emotions of his lead character perfectly, before throwing them back in time where we see the brilliance of his creative mind sending them into their carthaginian past. I could not put it down. Excellent, fantastic, perfect. Need I say more?
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 6 July 1999
The Sunbird is the standard by which all other books of this genre should be measured. Wilbur Smith's dark tale of reincarnation and doomed love is riveting. Smith has us wishing we were fighting beside Huy Ben-Amon as he goes into battle. Africa is described as being harsh and unforgiving, but with a beauty that is breathtaking. The author gives us everything we could ask for in this type of book. Simply put, Wilbur Smith's greatest novel.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Mild spoilers

Well probably some 30 years from my first read of this epic book I find myself submitting a review of it after breaking my own unwritten rule of never re-reading a book. I ended up on this road after drawing up a short list of books I would have given 5 stars to had I been into reviewing at the time (or in this case had amazon and the internet existed!) after a discussion with another reviewer. (Cheers JPS)

As a teenager this book absolutely blew me away. It seemed to have everything a young man ever fantasised about between its covers:- wild untamed Afrika, beautiful and willing woman, full pitched battle and the lifestyle of the rich and famous! Well all the usual Wilbur Smith ingredients really. What set this book apart from the other WS classics of the same era was it's telling of two tales, one tale set in the present day and the other set over a thousand years earlier, just after the final punic war. A further twist is that main players are essentially re-born versions of themselves, and that the modern tale in someways shadows the events of the past. In the modern day Dr Ben and his fabulously rich mentor have uncovered an ancient city whilst a thousand years earlier a new King takes control of the same City in it's pomp after it's inhabitants fled Carthage and the iron shod rule of the Romans. You with me?

However the biggest and best twist for me is that the main hero, our own Dr Ben Kazin / Huy Ben-Amon is a hunch back! As other regular readers of WS know all his heroes are staggeringly handsome, intelligent, rich, super tough and natural leaders of men... oh and invariably called Courtney! So this was quite a departure at the time. Of course his best mate Louren/ King Lannon is staggeringly handsome ,rich etc etc but he is not the main player, is not called Courtney and to some degree is the bad guy.(Debate this if you wish)

The thing I loved about the story was the complex nature of the relationship with Ben/ Huy and his nemesis Timothey/ Timon. A man who is first student then traitor (? again debate) and black rebel. It's funny re-reading this book all these years later with a much stronger sense of who I am in relationship to the world and history I found myself largely rooting for Timon and frustrated with Ben's slavish following of his King. Whereas earlier I had marvelled at his loyalty and willed him to win his war.

Of course the book was written pre apartheid and in a somewhat un PC style that jarrs far more now than it did back in the less enlightened seventies and Smith has generally written from the Anglo-afrikaan's perspective with the black characters usually being loyal servants or at best charismatic bad guys. This book I think is more complex than that.

I have already 'spoilt' far more than I like to so I will say no more about the plot. I think the style of this book has aged a little and isn't as action packed as modern equivalents. But it is a complete tale in one volume which is something you don't get very often now and it is the work of an author who was very much at the top of his game. His love for Africa shines though all his best work (so does his love of big game hunting too). I have only scored it 4 stars this time, though much of my enjoyments was affected by essentially knowing what happens but this remains an unusual and highly readable classic and sadly Smiths later works are rather pale ghosts of his novels of this era.

I picked up my copy for a penny plus postage as this was first released in '72 (which probably means no one will ever read this review!) but if you are you can't go wrong at that price can you?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 15 July 2007
I've been reading Wilbur Smith almost excluively for seven years now. I've read all of his novels, most of them twice. He is an incredible author and this is one of his best books; definatly in the top five and a contender for his best stand-alone book.

The best thing about The Sunbird is that it really makes you feel for the characters, in particular the main character, Dr Ben Kazin.

It's split up into two different sections. The first is set in the modern day and deals with Archeologists uncovering an ancient city. The second section goes back in time and describes the the downfall of the city, introducing characters parrallel to those found in the first half.

This isn't something Smith usually does but here it has worked really well. What brilliant tales of strife, violence, love and war he spins! This is one of his best. It'll make you want to believe it actually happened. I lost several days of a holiday to this book and i can't say i regretted it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I'd somehow managed to not read a single Wilbur Smith book until three months ago, when on a whim I picked up the first in the Courtney series. I liked this so much that I worked through all of the Courtneys (all three arcs), the Ballantyne series, and am now reading all of Wilbur's standalone novels. The Sunbird is thus the 22nd Wilbur Smith book that I've read in the past twelve weeks.

The book is divided into two parts. The first tells the story of an experienced archaeologist (who happens to be a hunchback), who could easily be a distant relative of Indiana Jones. Ridiculed by some in the profession for his belief that that there was once a Phoenician settlement in Botswana, he goes in search of the lost city of Opet when he sees what he thinks is proof of the city's existence in some aerial photographs. He's accompanied (and funded) by his rich friend Louvren, and his female assistant with whom, inevitably, he is in love. The book's name comes from Louvren's nickname for his friend - the Sunbird.

For me, this first part of the story wasn't convincing. It was obvious that he would uncover the city (it's not giving any spoilers to say this), and on the way there are a series of struggles, with reluctant natives and with terrorists. The latter seemed shoehorned in just for effect, and approaching halfway through the book, I was on the verge of giving up as I didn't really care about any of the characters, and it seemed to be a typical Smith story - but just not as good.

However, it was only when reaching the 'end of part one' that I realised that the book is split into two sections. The second goes back in time almost 2000 years and tells the story of the end of the city's life, and how it fell - coincidentally, a key player in this is also a hunchback, also nicknamed the Sunbird. This is where the book came into life for me, as I was gripped by the story of the city, in what I consider to be perhaps the best 200 pages that I've so far read by Smith. The detail is fantastic, the story convincing, and one can scarcely believe the brutality of what happens - although complete fiction, however, it's easy to picture these events (or similar events) taking place at some point in the distant past.

If the book had consisted purely of part two (ie was set in the ancient city, with no reference to the modern day), then I'd be giving this five stars - more, if I could, it's that good. However, given that part one was a disappointment, I can only give it four stars. If you do read this, and find part one disappointing, then stick with it; it's more than worth it. I'm now looking forward greatly to reading Smith's River God Egyptian series; if that series set in ancient times is half as good as part two of the Sunbird, it will be very good indeed.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 21 January 2014
This is probably one of the best books I have ever read. Wilbur Smith has always been one of my favourite authors and I own all the books he has written; to my knowledge. There is something about this novel that grabs the reader from the very start and the two main characters who are separated by many centuries and yet whose lives seem to connect is an unusual concept that works well. Normally I read a book once and that is the last time I visit it; this book I have read three times and am looking forward to the day when the storey has faded enough from my memory that I can enjoy it again! I believe Wilbur Smith may have been laying another parallel storey of the collapse of the white empire of Modern day Rhodesia / Zimbabwe when he wrote the book. Anyone who has never read a Wilbur Smith novel will be turned into an instant fan. If you have read a number of his books but this one has escaped you this is not to be missed!
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 8 July 2001
This is the first novel I have read by Wilbur Smith and once I opened the first page I couldn't put it down. The author had done so much research into his home continent of Africa it's amazing. The story being told in 2 parts, then whilst reading trying to match them together in your mind. Brilliant, amazing, get me another Mr Smith book NOW.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 3 January 2000
The three books felt as if they should have been classified as non-fiction. The characters were so vivid that you felt you were actually there in the midst of action.
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