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Birds Without Wings
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on 10 November 2017
Louis de Berniere has long been a favorite and much-admired author, but I only recently discovered Birds Without Wings and downloaded it as an e book. What a fortunate and revelatory choice that would prove to be. I read it by myself, then my husband and I read it aloud to one another. I felt my mind ignited by its great sweep of research, so meticulously done into the unraveling of the Ottoman Empire, melded with the brilliant warp and weft of life in a small village. Embroidered with the most curious and engaging characters - and a command of the art of writing than can only be called masterful, the book draws the reader deeper, ever deeper into the blood, brutality and tender beauty of a lost age, a lost culture where Muslims and Christians, Armenians and others lived together in harmony.

The territorial and political ambitions of the Great Powers, the rise of nationalism, the necrotising virus of fanatical religious movements insidiously ate away at the entire society. Yet even in the darkest hours and most scarifying passages of this wonderful story, there are threads of kindness, mutual respect, gentle nostalgia and blessedly benign humour shining through. This is a book, in the end, about how we are doomed to repeat mistakes and atrocities again and again, because we are birds without wings. Yet the impulse to fly remains within us, and our spirits, ever unconquerable, continue to rise to higher ideals and hopes of a better, more compassionate world. If you read only one book this year, make it this one. It should be on the curriculum of every higher education institution in the world
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on 28 May 2015
I resisted reading this book for years. I generally stay away from dramatic books, and am not a fan of historical fiction. Especially the ones about Turkey and the Ottoman Empire as I'm from Turkey. I mean, I already read a whole lot of history books about this region, I didn't want to add fiction too. I finally caved in because of the book's beautiful cover and oh, how I'm glad that I did.

The best part of the book to me was that it was fair about all sides. I think other people whose roots go back to the Ottoman Empire can relate, there is still the wave of "*we* were always right, *they* were always wrong and cruel" among Turks, Greeks, Armenians, Arabs, and all the other groups in the empire. Some people believe that to this date, I guess they want to believe, but it is far from reality. By today's standards our ancestors had some twisted beliefs and traditions. And very much like we can say about any and every group in the world, some people within the same group were better than the others, some people within the same groups were just horrible. Very early on in the book I was annoyed by the misogyny and felt glad I was not born yet back then. You grow sympathy towards the characters and then you see that they do something which would be unacceptable today. The characters were realistic for that era and under the circumstances of war.

"Don't go!" people scream, sobbing, when their neighbors are being taken away. The people they grew up with, their friends, neighbors. I don't know if I got softer, or if it's because I grew up in a region in Istanbul that was quite multicultural with Greek-descent and Armenian-descent Christians, and also with Jewish neighbors. Birds Without Wings was the first ever book that made me literally cry. To imagine my friends and older neighbors go away like that is something I never want to imagine. This is a must-read for every Turk, Greek, Armenian and all the others whose families were once a part of the Ottoman Empire. It will be a reality check it was not just all wars, it was not one side enjoyed pleasures and the other sides suffered. It was all. Some people were friends, some were enemies, we all sometimes enjoyed the pleasures, we all sometimes suffered. Not to forget Brits, Anzacs, Italians, French and the others who were a part of the WWI. Victor Hugo has once said, "Civil war? What does that mean? is there any foreign war? Isn't every war fought between men, between brothers?" I remembered that quote while I was reading Anzac and Turkish soldiers in Gallipoli feeling upset for the other side. Help each other at times. Hate why they have to do what they have do. I hope never, ever there will be a war like that again and the only books written about wars could be written about the past ones.

The book itself is also a must-read for everyone. There is everything; friendship, love, family relations, neighbor relations, religion, traditions and the struggle with conscience, politics... everything. This was my first book written by Louis de Bernieres and I'm mad at myself for not discovering such a wonderful author earlier. He delivers all the stories in Birds Without Wings beautifully. At first I was a bit annoyed for the lack of translations of the sentences in different languages, but now that I look back, I think this added a good mystery to the story. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is dear to my heart as you can imagine, I was also touched by every chapter about him, although of course being a fiction book not everything was accurate.
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on 18 August 2015
Really enjoyed reading this. The lives of several characters were woven into an account based around the first 20 odd years of the 20th century. It's slightly depressing to realise that all the worst behaviours are still in evidence today. Most of the narrative relates to what is now Turkey, and it's humbling to know that less than 100 years ago many people of that region had no real idea that Great Britain existed, and didn't really care either, as they stumbled from war to war, showing a different perspective of The Great War from the way we usually look at it in the West.
Orders for the removal of ethnic groups caused confusion for some members of the population who weren't really sure which group they belonged to, and afterwards there were unexpected consequences for the remaining inhabitants.
This is a book which deals with serious issues, with just enough humour to show that the author is not condemning any particular group, except perhaps some of those in powerful positions who should have had more consideration for people affected by their decisions.
I was sorry to reach the end of this book, which has whetted my appetite to read more widely on this subject.
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on 29 February 2016
Well, 'love it' is a strange way of putting it. The horrors of war, the disruption of individual lives and of whole villages, nations and religions cannot be said to be pleasurable. The are, however, a good reminder to us island dwellers that life is and has been a great deal more dangerous than for us. To cross our boundaries is no easy task. I first read it by borrowing it from a friend about eight years ago. This friend subsequently moved and since then I have been looking hopefully in charity shops, but now, through Amazon and this seller, I have access to this horrifying story of war and corruption that explains so much about where we find ourselves today. It is a real tome. So thank you for making it available to me once more.

This seller, like all amazon's sellers delivered promptly and in the condition described. Thank you..
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on 23 September 2013
Birds without Wings is set in the dwindling Ottoman Empire of the early 1900's from which ashes arose modern Turkey thanks to the relentless efforts of Mustafa Kemal, Atatürk, i.e. the father of all Turks.

It is one of those books I would label as "classic", one that everyone should read. It starts with the life of ordinary people living in a small village in southwestern Turkey where Muslims and Christians mingle together in their daily life. But soon enough their entire world is turned upside down with the Armenian cause, followed by the first World War in which the Ottomans automatically became the enemy of British and French powers culminating in the bloody and horrible combats at Gallipoli. The Muslims from the village are summoned to become soldiers, the Christians in a later phase to be practically enslaved in compulsory labor, leaving only old men, women and children to tend the fields and to survive. As if they had not suffered enough, this utter misery was followed by the massive people migration in which the Turkish-speaking Greeks of Turkey were exchanged against the Greek-speaking Turks from Greece - the memory of which maybe still be felt in today's relations between Greece and Turkey.

In any case, this book is both a captivating story and an excellent history of Turkey, most of which goes unknown to the rest of the world and certainly to the many tourists who visit this country year after year.
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on 22 July 2013
On the Gallapoli front, Ottomon side....
Fikret, Fikret, can you see the green birds?
Very slowly and quietly and sadly he said,'There are no green birds.'
'Will you send me some spare virgins?'
He smiled a very little and shook his head to say no, and then sighed very deeply and died.

At last I have found my ultimate favourite English story teller! And its probably because he is of French origin. What a story, set in Ottomon times just before the onset of the WW1. There is the microcosm, in the detailed portrayal of a tiny inconsequential village in Turkey, inhabited by Muslims, Armenians, Christians trying to lead perfectly ordinary lives when the great war starts. Gallopoli was explained through the eyes of one of the sons of the same village making the horrors of war very real indeed. Louis juxtaposes this micro story with macro version of Kemal Attaturk rise through the ashes of the Ottomon empire. It is the best way to learn about a bygone era.

I have become a huge fan my Louis de Berniers.....
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on 31 July 2017
We visited Turkey last year and our tour guide couldn't believe we had never read this book! On our return, I purchased a copy and I was not disappointed. It's an amazing story based on historical events - totally engrossing with beautifully developed characters. Made all the more fascinating if you have visited Turkey or Greece and a great book to read before you go or whilst you're there.
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on 22 July 2015
The good: beautiful writing, for the most part. The characters in the village of Eskibahce are vivid and well-rounded, and I found myself immersed in their lives, and wanting to know their fates. The story of Tamara, the unfaithful wife, is heartbreaking. The scenes from the battlefield are engrossing and shocking in their depiction of the sheer horror and inhumanity of war. Tales of everyday life in the village are made magical by the truly impressive amount of fine detailing which the author has gone to great lengths with. And there are genuinely interesting insights granted, for example, that the Anatolian people's perception/description at that time of Northern and Western Europeans was as 'Frankish', i.e. 'British Franks', 'German Franks' etc.

The bad: as other people have said, BWW becomes mired in history lessons (in each chapter on 'Mustafa Kemal'). In the early stages of the book, these diversions are interesting - and short enough so that they don't dominate the narrative - but towards the end of the book they become more dominant. These history sections are where the author's voice comes across strongest, and,sometimes, not in a good way. There's a glibness to the tone which grates after a while. Also, there are a lot of obscure (English) words used in early parts of the book, which is unnecessary and distracting.

Nevertheless, quibbles aside, this really is an excellent read. It's a great story about the birth of the Turkish nation, from the grand, somewhat academic version which historians deal in, to a version with much finer resolution, which shows us in great detail the impacts of war and population displacement on everyday people living everyday lives.
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on 20 January 2018
The story of a small Ottoman coastal town and its inhabitants ,initially living happily together despite differences in race and religion and the terrible changes inflicted upon them by war, nationalism and uncaring bureaucracy.
The characters become very real and one longs to give them wings so that they can escape the depradations and oppressions which befall many of them.
Although a sad story it has wonderfully warm human touches and arouses empathy for most characters ,except those in power.It is a lesson in the futility of wars and empires.
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on 23 January 2015
Without doubt one of those books, that goes onto the " must read list ".

Not only is this book a personal ride with the characters, it is also a History lesson. As with Bernieress' other books you are allowed live in a world that is past but brought back to life with a beautifully told story. No liberties are taken with the history, so many Authors change fact to suit their fiction, thus clouding the reality that goes hand in hand with our journey.
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