Birds Without Wings

I did finish it, with a half hour to spare before my book club meeting. As I mentioned before, the book starts out as a very charming portrait of this little village in the Ottoman Empire -- what's now Turkey -- just prior to the start of World War I. Very charming. In this village live Muslims and Christians, Greeks, Turks & Armenians, living side by side, intermarrying happily and even attending each others' houses of worship on occasion. There are all kinds of "characters" like the aphorism-spouting potter, the imam who's deeply in love with his horse (not that way, shame on you!), the two young boys who play that they're birds, the beautiful young girl and her betrothed, the village drunk, the weird deformed hermit-beggar, the Armenian pharmacist: quite a cast. The first part of the book has a flavor that reminded me of The Sotweed Factor, which I never finished but loved all the same. And here's something: the author has a wonderful ability to write with different voices. Chapters are told from the point of view of many of the characters, and they are each very different in tone and style. A real treat.

Interspersed among these chapters, subtle at first so you (at least I) don't realize exactly what's going on at first, is the biography of some guy named Mustafa Kemal. His birth, childhood, schooling, etc., a little at a time. He doesn't seem to have anything to do with the village people. Eventually you realize that Mustafa Kemal is real-life historical figure Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who becomes the founder -- "liberator" -- and first president of Turkey.

And after awhile the two storylines begin to converge. World War I starts. The Ottoman Empire declares it a jihad, a holy war, and only Muslims are allowed to enlist as soldiers. Suddenly people are divided where formerly they coexisted peacefully. The Armenians are deported first, then the Christians. And the war heats up. I already mentioned the gruesome descriptions in a previous post. The casualties are . . . endless. And not just for the soldiers. No one is left unscathed. No one. It is extremely painful to read; the best I could do was skim my way through it. The book does not get better after the war ends.

To sum up: I would highly recommend the first section of the book to anyone. And I would recommend the whole tragic thing to anyone who believes in the possibility of a just war.


  • Julie, your design at Fred's World is AWESOME!

    posted by Blogger Running2Ks on 11:10 PM  

  • See? You did exactly what I told my readers you do well. Now, I study this post, and somehow weave it into a conversation at lunch. They all walk away thinking I'm such an avid reader.

    I love the new Fred when I leave comments. It's perfect.

    posted by Blogger Fred on 7:45 AM  

  • It was a self-fulfilling prophecy, Fred. After your glowing description of my blog, what else could I do but try to actually live up to it? Luckily I had just finished a book! So, now I'm just sitting back and watching the huge spike in hits both here and at my other site. Thanks, man!

    And R2K, thanks!

    posted by Blogger Julie on 8:08 AM  

  • Excellent summary. I think I would recommend it to anyone with questions about war--I would like, were it possible, for all my students who think they will go into the military to read it. I would like to know how such atrocities can happen. I just don't understand how good people get caught up in evil--in our society this situation seems entirely foreign, yet we know from recent history that the elevation of a society does not preclude such behavior, and when it happens, it happens swiftly. I went to bed last night feeling so vulnerable, as if outside my peaceful house lurked dire possibilities that I did not want to face. The book was entirely tragic, beginning to end, except that the hubris did not belong to any one person, it just seemed to be a product of a movement, which originated in a mystery. Very disturbing.

    posted by Anonymous Laura on 9:48 AM  

  • Okay, I don't think my book club book was that bigger of a downer, but it was pretty close. I didn't finish it yet, I don't know if I will. It was the The True Story of Hansel and Gretel. Set it World War II, it was pretty brutal at parts. Like I said last wee, I am in a rice pudding kind of reading mode right now. I am sticking with the kiddie lit for now; it is enjoyable without being stressful.

    posted by Anonymous Nixie Knox on 10:41 AM