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Book Review: "Birds Without Wings" by Louis de Bernieres

5/5 - Beautiful, incredible, moving and emotional...

By Annie KapurPublished about a year ago 5 min read

Someone on Reddit said that I should read this when I asked quite an open-ended question (which received way more replies than I thought it would). I've read Louis de Bernieres before in the form of Captain Corelli's Mandolin and yet, I never watched the movie because according to a lot of people who did it ruined the book for them and did not do the book justice at all. I enjoyed the book when I read it and so, as I continue with my journey into this author, I have to thank the person on Reddit that suggested I read Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres.

The book starts really strangely because there are many characters that we need to get to know before anything much happens. For example: there is Philothei who is the most beautiful girl in the whole place and according to the book, there was a huge celebration when she was born. There is the elusive Ibrahim who goes mad for reasons that are made clearer in the book by various and harrowing descriptions. Drosoula is Philothei's best friend who describes herself in her writing when she is in old age as the most hideous woman ever. She constantly compares herself to Philothei, almost resentful that nobody celebrated her birth though she and Philothei were born on the same day. Then there is Mustafa, a boy who talks back, revolutionises thought and stands up when everyone else is sitting down. That guy is a bad ass.

When it comes to the Battle of Gallipoli, de Bernieres is able to capture the madness and revolution so well, it reads almost like poetry. Through battle cries and philosophies of life and death, de Bernieres makes sure that we understand that this war will impact every single person, no matter who they are or what they look like or what kind of family they come from - everyone will be changed by it. I loved the enchanting descriptions of place and atmosphere, the intense descriptions of madness and the war, the beauty and fate of each of the characters - it has to be one of the most beautiful novels I have read in a long time and I'm not overstating that. Just take a look at this from early on in the novel. It's a quotation I kept coming back to because it is so profound and yet, entirely simple. The beating heart of identity pulls through Drosoula's speech and chapters where she writes her woes. I freaking loved it because it hit me in all kinds of ways. Have a look:

I am just an old woman in exile, I have no education, I am ugliness personified, but if I could break open my ribs with my bare hands, I wuold show you that I have a heart grown huge with love, and grief and memory.

Another quotation on a totally different subject from this book is where we meet the 'Dog from Hell' as it were called. I don't want to say too much about it, but the writing style is so different to the tone de Bernieres uses for the other characters. It is instead, tinged with a blackness that you would expect from a folk horror novel instead of this epic war story of revolution and progression:

People notices that the Dog's feet were cut and bloody, as if he had walked for days, unconscious of his pain or the danger of infection. They noticed that there was something untamed and prophetic in his demeanour...Lovers of wonders looked forward to miracles, and traders and artisans clapped their hands together at the thought of the custom of pilgrims...

When Mustafa goes in for military training as well, I was wide-eyed with anticipation of great lengthy descriptions about what was going on in his head at the time and I was not disappointed. Ashamed of his poor French, Mustafa showcases what is probably his first real vulnerability before going off to war.

One of my favourite chapters is 'On Reading and Writing' in which the characters (I won't say exactly who) talk about who is better at reading and writing and who has the better resources for it (schools, teachers etc). The chapter ending with a pronunciation just goes to show how important language is to these people - it is not only a part of their identity but it is also a part of their connections with others. They connect to others, to anyone else, no matter what background they come from, using language and learning language. It's really quite beautiful.

I also love the 'I am Philothei' parts in which she inches closer and closer to finding a calling of some kind. She talks about how she's growing up, how she's understanding the world and how this revolution, this war, is impacting her in new ways. I love these parts of the books because she has such an incredible tone and you get to see it progress as she grows up and experiences new things.

But the part that possibly ached the most for me is the chapter on Ibrahim later on in the book where he says the following (spoilers deleted):

My face filled up with blood and my ears started to burn, and the misery came into my heart like a heated knife, and this is why I didn't marry Philothei the moment I came home after the war...

The following reasons he gives is pretty unreal but I won't tell them to you here because it'll spoil some of the book for you. It comes pretty much full circle and honestly, if I ever read something this heartbreaking again, you will know about it in the full length of review you have been provided with right here.

Good grief, that was one beautiful book.

I apologise for going on forever, but you would as well if you read this incredible book. It's made me really want to read way more de Bernieres than I ever have.


About the Creator

Annie Kapur

Film and Writing (M.A)

150K+ Reads on Vocal

IG: @AnnieApproximately

Pronouns: (she/her/hers)

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