Reviews provided by Syndetics
Library Journal Review
In the ten years since his international best seller Corelli's Mandolin, English novelist de Berni?res has truly steeped himself in the culture and history of southwestern Turkey. The result is an absorbing, polyvocal epic centered on a charming coastal Anatolian village where religious and ethnic harmony is shattered by World War I and the subsequent internecine slaughter during which Ottomans become Turks; Turkish-speaking Greek Orthodox Christians become forced exiles, replaced by Greek-speaking Muslims from Crete; and Armenians become victims. This novel emphasizes the brutalities and stupidities of modern warfare (notably at the battle of Gallipoli) even more emphatically than de Berni?res's magic realist debut, The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts. About a dozen characters tell their quasi-picaresque stories in short chapters interpolated by an amusing, highly anecdotal sketch of the brilliant career of Mustapha Kemal, later called Atat?rk, founder of the modern Turkish nation, who, in abolishing the fez "becomes the only dictator in the history of the world with a profound grasp of the semiotics of headwear." Vivid characterization, wry humor, believable bawdiness, pathos, and trenchant observations of the perils of empire and nation building make this a strongly recommended selection for all historical fiction collections. Mark Andr? Singer, Mechanics' Inst. Lib., San Francisco (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
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 Bernieres' 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 Ataterk, 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 Bernieres 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 Bernieres's careful exposition and imagination, be lost to memory forever. Agent, Lavinia Trevor. (Aug.) Forecast: Corelli had the advantage of WWII, a prominent love story and a movie tie-in; this book's period and setting are less familiar. Still, readers who enjoyed Corelli will be likely to give it a chance. 10-city author tour. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
With a village in southwest Turkey as a microcosm, de Bernieres ( Corelli' s Mandolin, 1995) offers an impressive view of this region during the early twentieth century, a tumultuous period marking the end of the Ottoman empire and the birth of the Turkish republic. In Eskibahce, inhabited by a delightful and diverse population, tradesmen make their living, children play happily, and the followers of priest Father Kristoforos and imam Abdulhamid Hodja are friends, with Muslims in distress making offerings to a Christian saint. (Here too Philothei, a Christian girl so distractingly beautiful that she is veiled, is betrothed to Muslim Ibrahim, a love that ends tragically.) But world events intervene, conscripting the men, removing the Armenians, and finally relocating people solely on the basis of religion, tearing apart communities as Christians are sent to Greece and Muslims to Turkey. The true story of Mustafa Kemal, military genius and Turkey's first president, is interwoven with accounts--humorous, horrific (in describing the effects of war), and luminously moving--by and about the people of Eskibahce. De Bernieres' canvas is wide, as he sketches political movements and takes religion and nationalism to task, but his characters' stories are intimate, creating a wonderfully rich and timely epic. --Michele Leber Copyright 2004 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
The popular British author's first since the huge international success of Corelli's Mandolin (1994) is an epic chronicle of the making of modern Turkey. And it's the story of the destruction of an ethnically mixed population (including Greek, Armenian, and Turkish Christians and Muslims) who had coexisted harmoniously until the militant nationalism of warrior-politician Mustafa Kemal, a.k.a. "Ataturk" (whose history is nestled among several brother narratives), triggered wholesale atrocities and mass deportations. The novel ranges from the late-19th-century Ottoman Empire to the early 1920s and the memories of those who survive beyond them, and is centered in the village of Eskibahce in southwestern Anatolia. The lack of a central plot, frustrating in itself, is somewhat assuaged by the varied, colorful voices of de Bernières' several narrators. Prominent among them are stoical Iskander the Potter, a repository of indigenous folklore and wisdom; impossibly beautiful Greek girl Philothei, whose thwarted love for Muslim goatherd Ibrahim forms a paradigm for their cultures' struggles; wealthy merchant Rustum Bey, who kills his faithless wife Tamara's lover and consigns her to public stoning, before embarking on a voyage to Istanbul that culminates in a complex relationship with his Circassian mistress Leyla; and Iskander's son Karavatuk, who forms an unlikely friendship with Philothei's brother Mehmetcik, and later narrates an enthralling (if overlong) account of his wartime experiences, notably the historic carnage of Gallipoli. Birds Without Wings also features beguiling interpolated stories, notably that of Yusuf the Tall, who commands his son to kill his promiscuous daughter, then declares himself a murderer. Unfortunately, it also contains numerous passages of authorial moralizing about "nationalism and religion . . . [and the] evil . . . " they produce, as well as interminable variations on the metaphors of men as wingless birds and birds as frail, defenseless victims. It would be foolish to deny that there are great things herein, but their author's laboriously shouldered agenda goes a long way toward undermining them. Enormously readable, intermittently brilliant, honorably conceived and felt--and very deeply flawed. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.