Wendy's Reviews > Birdsong

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
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Jun 27, 08

bookshelves: historical-fiction
Read in October, 1999

I considered myself a fairly informed person about the 1st World War, until I read this book. It is one of the most disturbing accounts of the effects of atrocities upon the human mind I have ever read. A friend of mine who is a psychiatrist, and specialises in the effects of shock on the mind, borrowed this from me and was impressed with the accurate portrayal of the reactions of humans to extreme stress.

The book starts some years before the war when a young english man, Stephen Wraysford, goes to stay with a French family to gain work experience. He falls in love with the wife of the family and they start a passionate affair eventually leading her to leave her husband and children. After moving to a small town and living together for some time, she leaves him to return to her family and, finally he returns to England.Years later he finds himself back in France under more strained circumstances, in the mud of the trenches.

We follow Wraysford and the men under his command through the horrors of the campaigns across the fields of France, watching through their eyes as their comrades fall and their humanity is taken from them.

The book ends by coming up to the present day and following a descendant of Wraysford as she traces his history and we eventually learn his full story.

What is most shocking and, I am told by my psychiatrist friend, most realistic about this book is that the soldiers reactions become numbed to the carnage and that seeing so much horror on a daily basis lessens the effect, or apparant effect, on them. Perhaps this isn't so surprising given that the rise in violence on tv and film is blamed for numbing us to the attrocities in the world.

This book paints a graphic picture of the 1st World War and will make you think about exactly what the human mind can endure.

Given the above you might wonder why you should read this book but I can assure you that the story is wonderful and amongst the horror there are human stories of love and friendship which will keep you reading. There are also some wonderfully erotic moment between Wraysford and his french lover.

All in all this book is brilliant - love, sex, war, friendship, carnage and the enduring human spirit.
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