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Birds Without Wings

4.14 of 5 stars 4.14  ·  rating details  ·  5,918 ratings  ·  741 reviews
In his first novel since Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernières creates a world, populates it with characters as real as our best friends, and launches it into the maelstrom of twentieth-century history. The setting is a small village in southwestern Anatolia in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire. Everyone there speaks Turkish, though they write it in Greek letters. It...more
Paperback, 554 pages
Published June 28th 2005 by Vintage (first published 2004)
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My Name is Red by Orhan PamukSnow by Orhan PamukIstanbul by Orhan PamukBirds Without Wings by Louis de BernièresThe Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
Mediterranean Melting Pot (III): Byzantium and Turkey
4th out of 128 books — 143 voters
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur GoldenGone with the Wind by Margaret MitchellThe Pillars of the Earth by Ken FollettThe Book Thief by Markus ZusakThe Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
Best Historical Fiction
348th out of 4,239 books — 17,702 voters

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Community Reviews

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ETA on completion: Chrissie, stoip saying you love the book. Explain why! Everything explained below remains true. Other books are emotionally captivating, intellectually interesting, filled with humor and sorrow, What is it that makes this one different for me? It is that this book has a message. It looks at people and life and it says loud and clear how stupid we human beings are and how wonderful too! Does that make sense to you? Do you see life that way too?

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Twice a Stranger: The M...more

Tracing the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the birth of the modern republic of Turkey, this novel alternates the first and third person narratives of a range of characters from the fictional town of Eskibahçe (meaning Garden of Eden) in southwest Turkey with an account of the life of Mustafa Kemal, later Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the first leader of modern Turkey.

At the turn of the 20th century, the inhabitants of Eskibahçe comprise Muslim Turks, Christians of Greek origin and Armenians. They live...more
4.5 Stars

Birds without Wings by Louis Bernieres.

A dense, mesmerising, harrowing and yet humorous novel that will bring out all emotions that a reader can experience but did not think possible in one story.

Set in the peaceful fictional village of Eskibahce in south west Turkey and home to Turkish Muslims and Greek Christians who have lived for centuries side by side and tolerate and enjoy for the most parts each other's traditions and religions. The author introduces us to a village of charact...more
I so wish that the editor had been a bit more stringent with this book so that more people would read it! Even adoring the book as I did, I found I would have preferred it with one or two fewer plot lines. It is an incredibly historically informational novel peopled with (a few too many) warmly flawed and incredibly real characters.
I think the author's ability to provide a variety of viewpoints (via the different Muslim, Catholic, Turkish and Greek characters we meet) on a time period that is h...more
This, for me, is one of those rare and treasured reads, a book that will stay with me forever. It tells the story of a small village in Smyrna starting about 1900, before it became Turkey. It is divided into many short chapters, and is told mostly in the third person. Sprinkled throughout, though, are chapters told from the point of view of several of the villagers, some of whom we meet as children, while others merely recount events from their young lives from the perspective of mature adults....more
Jul 31, 2013 HuhWhat rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to HuhWhat by: Chrissie
*******SPOILER ALERT*******

I read this as part of a larger WW1 themed study to get a more focused perspective of the Great War from the point of view of the lives of the people of Eskibahce. I was fully aware that this was a work of historical fiction but my hope was that the author would use this fictional village in the Ottoman Empire and its fictional occupants as a mirror through which I could see the effects the Great War took on the everyday lives of these Ottoman citizens of Muslim, Greek...more
I LOVED this book. It's a story of true friendships which are torn apart by superficial definitions of separateness. It covers the topics of beauty, birth, a parent's love, a brothers love, unrequited lovers, addiction, the reality of death of old age and the brutality of untimely death. This book tells the story of Ataturk and the Armenian forced migration in a balanced and objective yet intimate way. It tells the story of the unity of the Greeks and the Turks before Wilson's nationalism had st...more
Tamir Damari
This book breaks your heart, but in a good way. DeBernieres' has a beautiful, eloquent, lyrical style, the effect of which is augmented by the tragic nature of much of his content. He also imbues his story with much pathos and humor. By doing so, he avoids heavy-handedness.

Birds Without Wings is a marvelously ambitious book. It is a epic about conflict and coexistence between Muslim and Christian Turks, Kurds and Armenians, set over the course of decades.

The book is historically informative, a...more
I loved this book. It's now on my list of all-time favorites.

The writing is lush and gorgeous and witty and empathetic. The many characters come alive and are very compelling. The setting is a little village in southwest Turkey, not too distant from Symrna (Izmir), and the time is the WW I period. The story is mostly told from the point of view of the various villagers and occasionally from the view of Mustafa Kemal (on his way to becoming Ataturk).

We get a fascinating view of Turkish village li...more
Apr 17, 2011 El rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to El by: Marieke
Shelves: 21st-centurylit
This was a book I read without any previous knowledge of the story, other than what my friend Marieke told me which was just her impression of the book. I agree with much of what she said, except I rarely cry while I read, and this was no exception; though the story did touch me immensely in parts. In addition to knowing little of the actual story before reading it, I admit to knowing little of the events within the story - the Battle of Gallipoli, for example. I must have missed those days that...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
One of the GoodReads groups I am in, The World's Literature, is focusing on literature from and about Turkey this year. Birds Without Wings was one of the February picks (discussion will end up here,) and even though I started it a while ago, it took me staying up until 2 am this morning to get through it.

This is an incredibly well-executed novel. The author tells the story of Turkey in the early 20th century, from its development from the Ottoman Empire or Anatolia, into a time where the peopl...more
Well I would like to put three and a half stars for this book.

This book is about the last years of the Ottoman Empire and the author simultaneously contrasts the happenings of the international political world with that of a small cast-away village where Greek Christians and Turkish Muslims lived side by side.

Being from Greece, you are 'taught' that the Ottoman Empire was an evil and repressive empire and hence why Greeks hate Turks and visa versa. What de Bernieres succeeds in doing is not be...more
Beautifully written and historically accurate. Give it some time.
This book should come with a warning. It will sadden you beyond measure. Set in a coastal village at the end of the Ottoman empire in what is now Turkey, it follows the fortunes and misfortunes of a large cast of characters. As Christians and Muslims, they have lived together peaceably for generations, and would continue to have done so without the virulent rise of nationalism in the "great world" around them. So the author argues, as the entire village is swept up in the wars and civil wars eru...more
Mark Bowman
This book was recommended to me as the best book available on understanding 20th-century Turkey. It focuses on the first two decades of the 20th century--when the Ottoman Empire was breaking apart and Turkey is formed. Interesting mix of history and fiction--background scenarios are historical while the main characters are from a fictitious small village. Both engaging and ponderous to read. Book is series of narratives told by the different characters--appropriate for an oral culture. One (Must...more
Amanda Rae
"Beautiful" is an accurate word to describe this book that hardly does it justice. As a lover of history, anthropology, good storytelling, and especially Turkish culture, this book satisfied me and then some. It is an exceptional portrayal of the struggles that everyday people underwent during the strange time between the end of the Ottoman Empire and the dawn of Atatürk's republic, when superficial lines were drawn up between people who had lived for centuries comfortably next to and around eac...more
George Thomas

I have read a number of books by de Bernieres the first being Captain Corelli's Mandolin, (I enjoyed both the book and the film) I then went on read The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts, then The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman (two of his Colombian trilogy) which I didn’t particularly enjoy as they were in the magical mystery genre of Gabriel García Márquez, whom Bernières greatly admires. However I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Birds without Wings’ and was blown away by the vast amount of his...more
Beautifully insightful, inspiring and deeply moving, ‘Birds Without Wings’ could very easily have been one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Although I’ve only read one other of Louis de Bernieres’s books –‘Notwithstanding’, which I thoroughly enjoyed at age thirteen, but on hindsight might have to reread it in order to fully understand its depth – I think that after reading ‘Birds Without Wings’, he’s quickly jumped to the top of my list of favourite authors. His writing is stunning, and I...more
A great book. I became utterly engrossed in the lives of the Muslim and Christian villagers in SW Turkey in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire. I spent time near where the village was located and the descriptions were spot on and made me miss it. Sometimes funny, frequently tragic and always moving.
Beth F.
I could not get into this book.

I read and loved Corelli's Mandolin but never felt any of the same attachment to the characters in Birds. This one was a disappointment for me.
It's hard to put down this book after spending so many delightful hours laughing and weeping with the people of Eskibahce, a sleepy small town in today's Turkey in which Armenians, Greeks and Muslims live quite peacefully considering themselves Osmans until history interrupts the course of their lives.

Some of the chapters dedicated to Kemal Atatürk and to political events were a little bit lenghty and too rich in detail for my liking, but still I just ADORED this book. The sheer humanity of Ber...more
Dana Stabenow
The story of how modern Turkey came to be, as told through the life of a village near Fethiye, Telmessos that was, on Turkey's Mediterranean coast. Turkey really is the crossroads of continents, which only means that it has been the marching ground of armies since civilization began. de Bernieres' description of the fighting and the atrocities before, during and after World War I leave you feeling that no matter how horrible was the forced relocation of Greek Turks to Greece and Turkish Greeks t...more
“The people who remained in this place have often asked themselves why it was that Ibrahim went mad. I am the only one who knows, but I have always been committed to silence, because he begged me to respect his grief, or, as he also put it, to take pity on his guilt.”

Set in southwestern Anatolia (today Turkey) before and during World War I, Birds Without Wings is a wonderful novel about a small village and the people who live there. Prior to the war, the community is made up of Muslims and Chr...more
Four and a half stars, really. A beautifully done pastiche of Turkey in the early 20th century, in flux from the Ottoman Empire to Ataturk's independent secular nation, before during and after WW I. De Bernieres creates a village on the Mediterranean Coast, and uses the lives and adventures of its inhabitants to illuminate the cultural, religious and political conflicts of the time. His characters are memorable, his history well-informed, and his style immaculate. Full disclosure: I've been to...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
This book is fantastically written. At the same time, it took me a month to read, during which time I read several other books.

Birds Without Wings is a big, ambitious book, focusing mostly on the lives of people living in a small Ottoman village in the first decades of the 20th century. Rather than following a single protagonist, the book has an ensemble cast, with about a dozen characters playing equally important roles. De Bernières also devotes about 80 pages, out of 550, to an attempt to sum...more
554 pages, a couple of breaks in between, shuttling between the audiobook and regular book and few months later, finally finished Birds Without Wings! I feel like I’ve been in a marathon. The first 40 or so chapters were challenging – found it overdescibed with an army of characters and seriously could you say that and describe that a bit more succinctly? There were some flashes of greatness in the writing but they were overshadowed by verbosity. It wasn’t until the 40th or so chapter that I fel...more
Amanda Patterson
Louis de Bernieres won the Commonwealth Writers Prize, Best Book, 1995 for Captain Corellis' Mandolin. I doubt whether Birds without Wings will win any kind of prize or much praise.
This is a sprawling novel set against the background of the collapsing Ottoman empire, the Gallipoli campaign and the ensuing struggle between Greeks and Turks that resulted from World War I.
I was overwhelmed by all of this and underwhelmed by the awful cliched ‘narrator’ style employed by de Bernieres. When I read a...more
This was a very complex story with many characters developed in short chapters. The characters are mixed as is the time line but I did not find it too difficult to follow.

"Destiny caresses the few, but molests the many, and finally every sheep will hang by its own foot on the butcher's hook, just as every grain of wheat arrives at the millstone, no matter where it grew." p.6

The time period is end of the great European empires, the beginning of WWI, the beginning of the Turkish nation. The life...more
There are not words to describe how much I adore this book. It's a definite departure from the style of his previous books (all of which I admire as much); it's much less funny (though still often wryly humourous), and belongs much less to the magical realist style.

De Bernieres deftly intersperses the life of the fictional Turkish town of Eskibahce at the time of the Great War with an account of the history of the times and the life of Mustafa Kemal. It's a period and a region which I didn't kno...more
Munched my way through this with relish. It has the same mix of honesty,non-judgmental observation and fascinating historical detail that I'm coming to love with Louis de Bernieres. It is ( as seems to be his style) a touch long winded in sections (in this case the Mustafa Kemel sections) but even these are fascinating, so they inspire only the mildest spike of irritation and nothing more.

I'm fast coming to love this writer. *makes grabby hands for another of his books*
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The World's Liter...: novel: BIRDS WITHOUT WINGS by Louis de Bernières 18 49 Mar 01, 2013 06:52AM  
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Novelist Louis de Bernières was born in London in 1954. He joined the army at 18 but left after spending four months at Sandhurst. After graduating from the Victoria University of Manchester, he took a postgraduate certificate in Education at Leicester Polytechnic and obtained his MA at the University of London.

Before writing full-time, he held many varied jobs including landscape gardener, motor...more
More about Louis de Bernières...
Captain Corelli's Mandolin The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman Red Dog

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“Your lips are like sugar
And your cheeks an apple
Your breasts are paradise
And your body a lily.

O, to kiss the sugar
To bite the apple
To reveal paradise
And open the lily.”
“Beauty is precious, you see, and the more beautiful something is, the more precious it is; and the more precious it is the more it hurts us that it will fade away; and the more we are hurt by beauty, the more we love the world.” 28 likes
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