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Set against the backdrop of the collapsing Ottoman Empire, Birds Without Wings traces the fortunes of one small community in south-west Anatolia - a town in which Christian and Muslim lives and traditions have co-existed peacefully for centuries.
When war is declared and the outside world intrudes, the twin scourges of religion and nationalism lead to forced marches and massacres, and the peaceful fabric of life is destroyed. Birds Without Wings is a novel about the personal and political costs of war, and about love: between men and women; between friends; between those who are driven to be enemies; and between Philothei, a Christian girl of legendary beauty, and Ibrahim the Goatherd, who has courted her since infancy. Epic in sweep, intoxicating in its sensual detail, it is an enchanting masterpiece.
'A mesmerising patchwork of horror, humour and humanity' Independent
It's been nearly a decade since Captain Corelli's Mandolin became a word-of-mouth bestseller (and then a major feature film), and devotees will eagerly dig into de Berni res' sweeping historical follow-up. This time the setting is the small Anatolian town of Eskibah e, in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. The large cast of characters of intermixed Turkish, Greek and Armenian descent includes breathtakingly lovely Philothei, a Christian girl, and her beloved Ibrahim, the childhood friend and Muslim to whom she is betrothed. The narrative immediately sets up Philothei's death and Ibrahim's madness as the focal tragedy caused by the sweep of history but this is a bit of a red herring. Various first-person voices alternate in brief chapters with an authorial perspective that details the interactions of the town's residents as the region is torn apart by war; a parallel set of chapters follows the life of Kemal Atat rk, who established Turkey as a modern, secular country. The necessary historical information can be tedious, and stilted prose renders some key characters (like Philothei) one-dimensional. But when de Berni res relaxes his grip on the grand sweep of history as he does with the lively and affecting anecdotes involving the Muslim landlord Rustem Bey and his wife and mistress the results resonate with the very personal consequences that large-scale change can effect. Though some readers may balk at the novel's sheer heft, the reward is an effective and moving portrayal of a way of life and lives that might, if not for Berni res's careful exposition and imagination, be lost to memory forever.