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Birds Without Wings

4.16  ·  Rating Details ·  9,008 Ratings  ·  1,018 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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Jan 22, 2015 Vessey rated it it was amazing

”No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde…

John Donne

To destroy

When is it a duty? When is it a right? When is it a sin? What makes one human being violate another’s body and spirit? What makes Cain to pick up the stone? Wh

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
Sep 11, 2008 Chrissie rated it it was amazing
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?

Read with:
Twice a Stranger: The M
Mar 01, 2014 Dem rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 15, 2012 Laura rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Laura by: Chrissie
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
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
Jan 14, 2008 Megan rated it really liked it
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
B the BookAddict
Sep 21, 2014 B the BookAddict rated it it was amazing
Recommended to B the BookAddict by: Chrissie
Shelves: best-of-the-best

Hopefully, a proper review will follow in the next few days. One of those special novels that drew me in from the first page and kept me riveted until the very last. The characters became people I really did care about. I will think about them for a long time to come.

My top quotes from the novel:

“Man is a bird without wings and a bird is a man without sorrow.

“There comes a point in life where each one of us who survives begins to feel like a ghost that has forgotten to die at the right time, a
Apr 25, 2012 Ron rated it it was amazing
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
Tamir Damari
Dec 13, 2008 Tamir Damari rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 16, 2011 Pearl rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 25, 2009 Laura rated it it was amazing
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
Sonia Gomes
Oct 13, 2015 Sonia Gomes rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone, just about everyone
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 01, 2008 Rea rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 10, 2011 El rated it really liked it
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
A. Dawes
Feb 25, 2017 A. Dawes rated it did not like it
I have an unusual relationship with de Benieres' novels. I loved the lyrical Captain Correlli's Mandolin (the film is a disaster, with Nicholas Cage giving possibly the worst performance in cinematic history), but the novel itself has it all: humour, tragedy, love, war, relationships and history. I enjoyed the wit and colour of The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts. But after three reading swings at The Partisan's Daughter, I eventually struck out on what could only be defined as overly twee ma ...more
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.
Feb 15, 2009 Steven rated it really liked it
Beautifully written and historically accurate. Give it some time.
Amanda Patterson
Nov 16, 2010 Amanda Patterson rated it did not like it
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
Amanda Rae
Jan 05, 2013 Amanda Rae rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-favorites
"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
Jun 15, 2013 George Thomas rated it it was amazing

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
“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
Dana Stabenow
Jun 20, 2011 Dana Stabenow rated it really liked it
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
Maria Bikaki
Oct 10, 2016 Maria Bikaki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read_in_2016, fiction
Ναι, ναι ναι το τελειωσα. Χειροκροτήστε με. Πραγματικά μετά το πιο άκυρο αναγνωστικό μου καλοκαίρι που για λόγους δουλειάς το διάβασμα πήγε πίσω το να ολοκληρώσω πλέον καποιο βιβλίο και πόσο μάλλον δύσκολο και ογκώδες καταγράφεται ως κοσμοϊστορικό γεγονός.
Αρα ένας εξτρα πόντος στο Λουι ντε Μπερνιέρ
«Για τα πουλιά που έχουν φτερά, τίποτε δεν αλλάζει. Πετάνε όπου θέλουν και δεν ξέρουν απόσύνορα και οι τσακωμοί τους δεν κρατάνε. Εμείς όμως είμαστε δεμένοι στη γη, όσο και αν σκαρφαλώνουμε ψηλότερα,
Jan 12, 2013 Mark rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 01, 2010 Mommalibrarian rated it it was amazing
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
May 15, 2016 Evgenia rated it really liked it
The premise of this book was promising—a portrait of Turks, Greeks, and Armenians from an early 20th century Anatolian town before and during the collapse of their world—but its style took some getting used to. Chapters are short, episodic, and disjointed, rotating points of view among the large cast of characters. Although the protagonists evolve, there is no central tension driving the narrative, making an already lengthy book seem longer.

Then there are the politics. Louis de Bernières relate
Mark Bowman
Nov 15, 2011 Mark Bowman rated it really liked it
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
Popy Tobing
May 21, 2016 Popy Tobing rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's a long read! Feels like reading Proust with a different personality. Each chapter written very detail and descriptive. It talks about life, death, love, God and religion. How the greek can get along with the turks, how the moslem friends with the christian. Few heartbreaking chapters. All written in beautiful words.
Ron Charles
Nov 16, 2013 Ron Charles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
That rumbling sound just over the horizon is a stampede of giant novels set to arrive in a cloud of publicity. Pity the midlist author who pushes a new book into the path of this horde next month. To the extent Hollywood rises or falls on Thanksgiving weekend, publishers are concentrating more and more of their big literary novels in the fall, a self-destructive tendency sure to overwhelm the nation's shrinking body of readers (and newspaper book sections). If, as Calvin Trillin observed, the av ...more
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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 about Louis de Bernières...

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“Where does it all begin? History has no beginnings, for everything that happens becomes the cause or pretext for what occurs afterwards, and this chain of cause and pretext stretches back to the Palaeolithic age, when the first Cain of one tribe murdered the first Abel of another. All war is fratricide, and there is therefore an infinite chain of blame that winds its circuitous route back and forth across the path and under the feet of every people and every nation, so that a people who are the victims of one time become the victimisers a generation later, and newly liberated nations resort immediately to the means of their former oppressors. The triple contagions of nationalism, utopianism and religious absolutism effervesce together into an acid that corrodes the moral metal of a race, and it shamelessly and even proudly performs deeds that it would deem vile if they were done by any other.” 57 likes
“Man is a bird without wings and a bird is a man without sorrow.” 43 likes
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