Friday, January 20, 2006

50 Book Challenge: 2006

Book 2: Birds Without Wings, by Louis de Bernières

After starting off the year in fine fashion by reading Ian McEwan's Atonement, I next moved on to another modern British novelist, Louis de Bernières. Best known for the well-loved novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin, he is a writer with an obvious propensity for vast amounts of research. I can't even begin to imagine how long it might have taken to get the details just so in Birds Without Wings. The story is set in a small Anitolian town called Eskibahçe in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. This small town is unique in that its residents are composed of a wide variety of people - from Greek Christians (who nonetheless speak the Turkish tongue), Muslim Turks and Armenians of both faiths. The cast of characters that inhabit the village is huge, yet each one has a distinct personality and the various stories are easy to follow. As the story moves forward, the reader is also treated to the rise of real-life historical figure Mustafa Kemal (aka Kemal Atatürk), who ultimately established Turkey as a modern, secular nation.

The novel itself is huge, which might make it a daunting prospect for some, but it is such an engrossing, sweeping combination of tales that the time investment is entirely worthwhile. Although there are a multitude of characters to know, it's certain that each reader will find him or herself attached to one or two in particular. For my own part, I was constantly looking forward to more news of Rustem Bey, the Muslim landlord. Early in the book, he does something that his conscience is never able to reconcile, but his search for redemption, happiness and love is consistently engaging and tender.

I've had a passion for modern British novelists since I took two courses on the subject during college (thank you, Dr. Stanley Renner), and authors like McEwan and de Bernières will certainly keep that spark alive.

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