Birds Without Wings
by Louis De Bernieres

Overview - Birds Without Wings traces the fortunes of one small community in southwest Turkey (Anatolia) in the early part of the last century — a quirky community in which Christian and Muslim lives and traditions have co-existed peacefully over the centuries and where friendship, even love, has transcended religious differences.  Read more...


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More About Birds Without Wings by Louis De Bernieres

Birds Without Wings traces the fortunes of one small community in southwest Turkey (Anatolia) in the early part of the last century — a quirky community in which Christian and Muslim lives and traditions have co-existed peacefully over the centuries and where friendship, even love, has transcended religious differences.

But with the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and the onset of the Great War, the sweep of history has a cataclysmic effect on this peaceful place: The great love of Philothei, a Christian girl of legendary beauty, and Ibrahim, a Muslim shepherd who courts her from near infancy, culminates in tragedy and madness; Two inseparable childhood friends who grow up playing in the hills above the town suddenly find themselves on opposite sides of the bloody struggle; and Rustem Bey, a wealthy landlord, who has an enchanting mistress who is not what she seems.

Far away from these small lives, a man of destiny who will come to be known as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is emerging to create a country from the ruins of an empire. Victory at Gallipoli fails to save the Ottomans from ultimate defeat and, as a new conflict arises, Muslims and Christians struggle to survive, let alone understand, their part in the great tragedy that will reshape the whole region forever.

From the Hardcover edition.

  • Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Gr
  • Date: Aug 2004

From the book

Editor's Note: At this point in the novel, Yusuf's daughter is pregnant by a Christian, leaving him with only one, terrible course of action...

The Tyranny of Honour

Yusuf the Tall loved all his children equally, with a passionate adoration that, when he thought about it, sometimes made him lachrymose. If his life were like a garden, then his daughters would be like the roses growing alongside its walls, and his sons would be like young trees that formed a palisade against the world. When they were small he devoted happy hours to their entertainment, and when they grew older he hugged them until their eyes bulged and they thought that their ribs would crack. He had grown to love his wife too, partly because this is what happens when a wife is well chosen, and partly because from her loins had sprung these brooks and becks of happiness.

But now Yusuf the Tall did not know what to do with his hands. It seemed as though they were behaving on their own. The thumb and middle finger of his left hand stroked across his eyeballs, meeting at the bridge of his nose. It was comforting, perhaps, for a scintilla of time. There was no comfort longer than that in this terrible situation. Sometimes his hands lay side by side on his face, the tips of his thumbs touching the lobes of his ears. He had thrown off his fez so that they could stroke his hair backwards, coming to rest on the back of his neck. The maroon fez lay in a corner on its side, so that his wife Kaya kept glancing at it. Despite this awful emergency, and the drama in which she was caught up, her instinct was to tidy it away, even if it were only to set it upright. She sat on the low divan, kneading her fingers, biting her lip and looking up at her husband. She was as helpless as one who stands before the throne of God.

Yusuf the Tall strode up and down the room, waving his hands, protesting and expostulating, sometimes burying his face in his hands. Kaya had not seen him so anguished and begrieved since the death of his mother three years before. He had painted the tulip on the headstone with his own hands, and had taken bread and olives so that he could eat at the graveside, imagining his mother underneath the stones, but unable to picture her as anything but living and intact.

Yusuf had passed the stage of anger. The time had gone when these patrollings of the room had been accompanied by obscenities so fearful that Kaya and her children had had to flee the house with their hands over their ears, their heads ringing with his curses against his daughter and the Christian:"Orospu çocu¢gu! Orospu çocu¢gu! Piç!"

By now, however,Yusuf the Tall was in that state of grief which foreknew in its full import the horror of what was inescapably to come. His face glistened with anticipatory tears, and when he threw his head back and opened his mouth to groan, thick saliva strung itself across his teeth.

Overtaken, finally, by weariness, Kaya had given up pleading with him, partly because she herself could see no other way to deal with what had occurred. If it had been a Muslim, perhaps they could have married her to him, or perhaps they could have repeated what had been done with Tamara Hanim. Perhaps they could have kept her concealed in the house, unmarried for ever, and perhaps the child could have been given away. Perhaps they could have left it at the gates of a monastery. Perhaps they could have sent her away in disgrace, to fend for herself and suffer
whatever indignities fate and divine malice should rain upon her head. It had not been a Muslim, however, it had been an infidel.

Yusuf was an implacable and undeviating adherent...


"a rich, mottled chorus, an amalgam of subplots that weave and complement each other in such a way that the town itself might be better called the central character. . . . For those who do not devour it immediately, Birds Without Wings will sit as great epics sit, on one's shelf demanding to be read, making one feel irresponsible and guilty, provoking resolutions of 'must read this before death.' Do read it before you die. It would be a terrible thing to have missed a work of such importance, beauty and compassion." - Camilla Gibb, The Globe and Mail

"De Bernières has unquestionably crafted a masterpiece." - The Chronicle Herald

"De Bernières is at his finest when he allows us to experience hardships and horrors through the lives of the villagers. He writes movingly of the battle of Gallipoli from the Turkish point of view, and the brutal, dehumanizing conditions of trench warfare." - The Seattle Times

"Highly impressive in its ambition and relative readability, to say nothing of its relevance for a time when the intersection of religion, nationalism and war is once again reshaping the world." - National Post

"De Bernières demands complete attention from his readers, but that close attention required is well rewarded. . . . Part novel, part historical document. This is a difficult book that stretches the traditional form of the novel." - Edmonton Journal

"This is a work that will move you deeply. A profound sadness and world-weariness pervade it, though at times it moves us to anger and pity.... What makes the work so poignant is de Bernières' exquisite ability to draw complex and fully realized characters about whom we come to care.... De Bernières will not let us forget that these things have happened and will happen again." - Kitchener-Waterloo Record

"De Bernières distributes his scorn and his compassion evenly, concerned as he is with questions that cut across lines of nationality and religion. An undertone of righteous disgust at what the powerful inflict on the powerless is felt throughout this book. It's affecting and not pedantic, because de Bernières is so good at depicting the good things that always seem to get trampled.... With a book as rich as Birds Without Wings...we're free to sit back and enjoy a huge story well told." - The Gazette (Montreal)

"Birds Without Wings is superbly written, gathering people and their hearts and souls and all their baggage of loss and hope together in one place and giving a point to life. It is, in every sense, a sublime book." - The Irish Times

"An absorbing read about a remote but captivating time. The Ottoman world's break-up is a rich, poignant story, and Mr. de Bernières is a good storyteller. At times he is nearly as good as Dido Sotiriou." - The Economist

"[Birds Without Wings] bears de Bernières' literary hallmarks -- vast emotional breadth, dazzling characterization, rich historical detail (and gruesome battle scenes), swerving between languid sensuality and horror, humour and choking despair." - Scotland on Sunday

"He is to be understood not as a one-hit wonder who arrived from nowhere one year and then disappeared, generating whispers of writer's block for the next 10, but as a prolific and ambitious writer with a rather astonishing body of work, notable for its dense lyricism, fierce wisdom, soaring passion and remarkable wit. In this tradition, Birds Without Wings is pure de Bernières." - The Globe and Mail

"This is one of the great novels about the early 20th century and the emerging modern world, an epic of human disaster, on small and grand scales. Against the background of the collapsing Ottoman Empire, armies march, populations flee, and mountains of corpses lie rotting, the landscapes of horror brought fully to our imaginations in terms so visceral we could weep. . . . One of the most profound and moving books you're likely to read." - The New Zealand Herald

"The most eagerly awaited novel of the year. . . . In counterpoint to the varieties of love, Birds Without Wings delivers the hideous violence of mechanised warfare. Its 100-page centrepiece, in which Karatavuk ("Blackbird") recounts the terror, squalor and fitful heroism of the G - Independent (UK)

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