In 1910 a young Englishman, Stephen Wraysford, goes to Picardy, France, to learn the textile business. While there he plunges into a love affair with the young wife of his host, a passion so imperative and consuming that it changes him forever. Several years later, with the outbreak of World War I, he finds himself again in the fields of Picardy, this time as a soldier on the Western Front. A strange, occasionally bitter man, Stephen is possessed of an inexplicable will to survive. He struggles through the hideously bloody battles of the Marne, Verdun, and the Somme (in the last named, thirty thousand British soldiers were killed in the first half hour alone), camps for weeks at a time in the verminous trenches, and hunkers in underground tunnels as he watches many of the companions he has grown to love perish. In spite of everything, Stephen manages to find hope and meaning in the blasted world he inhabits.
Sixty years after war's end, his granddaughter discovers, and keeps, Stephen's promise to a dying man. Sebastian Faulks brings the anguish of love and war to vivid life, and leaves the reader's mind pulsating with images that are graphic and unforgettable.
jksquires, June 22, 2012 (view all comments by jksquires)
I'd recently seen a young actor friend in an excellent play, "Journey's End" about World War I, and was looking for a good historical novel told from the British perspective, and Birdsong was recommended. Sebastian Faulks has created an incredible story of the Great War, giving a description of the horrors experienced by one young officer, Stephen Wraysford, that is utterly real and visceral. It is also a love story and, above all, a story of survival against incredible odds.
Katy17, November 13, 2006 (view all comments by Katy17)
War Literature was a new genre, not my usual taste at all, yet I felt compelled to read Birdsong for fear of ignorance. I was moved to tears on more than one occasion and was so distraught with the deaths of so many of the men, I had to stop at odd points.
I was disapointed with some of the sections set in the modern day and felt that some of the most important parts of the story got lost in the graphic details of injury and death. But the imagery and characterisations were so real, I could taste the blood.
Not to be taken lightly.
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