Customer Review

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best book I've ever read, 20 Jun 2008
This review is from: Birds without Wings (Paperback)
I don't say this lightly, but I think truthfully this is the best book I've ever read. Louis De Bernieres writes with such compassion, and so skilfully evokes the characters, setting and cultural mores of the period he's writing about that the story is compelling from page one. The characters are very likeable and human, and they become real as the novel progresses, so that it is almost painful to finish the last page and have to say goodbye to them. Having recently visited south west Turkey for the first time earlier this year I was stunned by the accuracy of de Bernieres' descriptions of the landscape and its ancient reminders of earlier civilisations. To my shame I was mostly ignorant of the history of this part of the world, so am extremely grateful to this book and its author for presenting its story in such realistic, sympathetic and human terms. The "history lessons" included in the book about Mustafa Kemal Ataturk are rather dry, especially if you hated history at school, but appear as short intervals in the whole, and reveal a charismatic and visionary character in the father of Modern Turkey.

Highlights of the book for me are in Karatavuk's memoirs from Gallipoli, the last reflections of the Greek philanthropist Georgio P. Theodorou, and the charming and convivial exchanges of the Christian and Muslim villagers living comfortably and respectfully side by side in the small Anatolian community in the early 20th century.

The imagery is stunning, both enchantingly beautiful- such as the marvellous description of Leyla Hanim's rooms, magically decorated for the romantic seduction of Rustem Bey complete with "roving" candlesticks - and graphically violent in equal measure, such as the disturbing memory which keeps a weary sergeant awake at night. Violence is positioned directly alongside small acts of kindness, and the descriptions of relations between the "Franks" and the Turks in trenches yards apart are particularly touching. The writing is full of love, humour and pathos, which make this a book to revisit over and over.

My advice on picking up this book, as surely you must, is to arm youself with a good map of Turkey and its neighbouring Greek islands, as the one inside the front cover isn't desperately clear, and it would be a crying shame to give up on this book because of geographical confusion! Read it and be transported!
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 14 Mar 2010 06:52:54 GMT
Ray Brindle says:
My sentiments but not quite exactly. Although many reviews refer to the historical thread as "dry" (as Juliet does), I found it interesting and - more importantly - essential to an understanding of the external forces that in the end destroyed the village's community. As far as I can judge, de Berniere manages all this without taking sides, even giving us an insight into the actions that led to the Armenian tragedy. The writing is engaging and the "voices" of the many characters are plausible and often reflcet folk humour. We are not let off too lightly, though - the descriptions of Gallipoli from "the other side" are both touching and horrifying. Read it and understand a bit more about conflicts that continue today.
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