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Thursday, July 10, 2008

1001 Book Update - Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks is another book I picked up for seventy-five cents at the Mid-Manhattan Library Book Sale. It's one of those books that has been on my list to read for years and years. The first Sebastian Faulks book I read was Charlotte Gray, a story about the French Resistance during World War II, which I definitely recommend. Charlotte Gray was also made into a movie with Cate Blanchett.

The reason I found Birdsong to be intriguing is because it was set during World War I, a period that many people in the United States don't know much about. I guess it's because the U.S. entered the War relatively late and didn't lose as many men compared to the rest. It's such an interesting period of time however, and this book helped me understand why to many in Europe, World War I is still referred to as The Great War.

I didn't realize until I was writing this review, that Birdsong is "A Novel of Love and War" because my copy of the book doesn't have that extra title. Interesting...but that's just what the book is about.

The story starts off with 20 year-old Englishman Stephen Wraysford who comes to France to learn French textile procedures. He is the house guest of M. Azaire, his new young wife, and his two children. While there he become enamored with the wife, Isabelle and they have an affair. Isabelle decides to tell her husband about the affair and start a new life with . Later on she has second guesses and while Stephen is at work, Isabelle leaves him as well. Fast forward a few years and Stephen is in an officer fighting in France during World War I. He has become just a shell of what he once was. Without Isabelle or any other close family, Stephen struggles with humanity and faith.

The book didn't really grip my attention until after Isabelle left Stephen. Fortunately the majority of the book takes place during Stephen's time fighting and surviving the war. I think a person would have to have a pretty hard heart and a strong stomach to not be affected by Faulks description of the events of World War I. Expect a lot of mud, blood, and trench warfare. I completely understand the term "Lost Generation" now that I've read this book. A large majority of that generation in Europe never survived the war and if they did, were never really the same again.

The only part of the book I wasn't too thrilled with was after reading almost half of the book who's chapters go: 1910, 1978???? The story flashes forward to Stephen's grandaughter who's going through her own relationship problems and her search for information on her deceased grandfather. While there was some interesting aspects of her story, I felt like it just didn't belong to the book I was reading.

Overall Birdsong is an amazing story and I would recommend it along with Charlotte Gray.

An alternate cover to Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War:

P.S. If you've read the book, do you know why it's called "Birdsong"? If you do, let me know!

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