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Customer Review

VINE VOICEon 10 January 2005
I read Birdsong after seeing it in the Top Ten of the BBC's Big Read. I have to say for the first section of the book, about Stephen's affair with a married women in Amiens, I wondered what all of the fuss was about. I found the French characters, such as the Berards and Monsieur Azaire, in this section a bit stereotypical and, while the affair was well written, I was a bit unconvinced by some of the turns of events. The sections about Azaire's business just did not interest me at all, and some of the characters just grated on me. Its not that this section of the book is particularly weak, I just found that I struggled to get into the story at all, or to like any of the characters, and almost had to force myself to persist.
However, I am glad that I did stick with this as the rest of the book totally changed my mind. The descriptions of life in the war are very moving and many of the characters beautifully drawn. It really brings home the horror of war reading a book that is clearly well researched and that describes trench life so realistically. I did not like the character of Stephen in the Amiens section of the book, but war makes him into a more likable, mature person and you find yourself rooting for him and his colleagues to survive, and upset when many of them don't. The character's here are wonderfully drawn, very human unlike the unrealistsic heros of many a war novel who seem more like comic book heros. We see the weaknesses and fear of these men, and yet they become more heroic because of this than characters in other books.
The device of Stephen's grandchild looking back at events in the future works in how it helps to reveal the truth of what happened to Stephen and Isabelle in the long run, but it is not the most convinving or enjoyable element of this read. The book's real strength is its descriptions of war and the struggle to retain some sense of humanity in such horror. No other book has made me appreciate what these men went through and the sacrifices made for us. It is a truly moving read and I would highly recommend it to anyone.
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