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Birds Without Wings


Birds Without Wings Cover

ISBN13: 9781400043415
ISBN10: 1400043417
Condition: Student Owned
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Reading Group Guide

The introduction, discussion questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enliven your group’s discussion of Birds Without Wings, Louis de Bernières’s eagerly awaited follow-up to the acclaimed Corelli’s Mandolin.

1. Why has Louis de Bernières chosen Birds Without Wings as his title? What practical and symbolic roles do birds play in the book? What does Karatavuk mean when he writes at the end of the novel that “we were birds without wings… Because we cannot fly we are condemned to do things that do not agree with us” (p. 550)?

2. Birds Without Wings is set in a village in Turkey in the early twentieth century. In what ways, despite its distant setting, does the novel mirror the contemporary world? In what ways is the world of the novel vastly different from the world today?

3. In his prologue, Iskander the Potter says that he misses the Christians after they were removed from Eskibahçe: “Without them our life has less variety, and we are forgetting how to look at others and see ourselves” (p. 7). Why does he feel that the presence of “others” allowed the villagers to see themselves? Why is the loss of variety so important? Why were so many different kinds of people able to live together in Eskibahçe so peacefully?

4. What makes Eskibahçe such a marvelously colorful village? Who are some of its most eccentric and engaging characters? How does the village change over the course of the novel?

5. The novel vividly describes the nationalist fervor that swept the world in the early twentieth century: “Serbia for the Serbs, Bulgaria for the Bulgarians, Greece for the Greeks, Turks and Jews out!” (p. 16). What causes these feelings? What are their ultimate consequences?

6. After Ayse and Polyxeni convince the reluctant Daskalos Leonidas to write a message in tears on the wings of a dove, which they hope will fly to Polyxeni’s dead mother, Ayse exclaims, “It’s incredible! A man with that much education, and he didn’t even know about how to get a message to the dead” (p. 77). What does this scene suggest about the gulf between traditional and modern ways of understanding the world?

7. On the way to Smyrna, Iskander prefaces his story by saying, “The thing about stories is that they are like bindweeds that have to wind round and round and creep all over the place before they get to the top of the pole” (p. 128). Is what Iskander says here true of the novel itself? In what ways does it “creep all over the place”?

8. What kind of man is Mustafa Kemal? How does he achieve his great military success? What are the ultimate consequences of his actions?

9. Leyla tells Rustem Bey that the women in town are saying that “you are a bad master because you don’t beat me” (p. 228). What does this passage suggest about the relationship between women and men in the novel? What roles are women expected to play? In what ways are they oppressed by their culture?

10. What are the most horrific aspects of war as it is described in Birds Without Wings? What are its greatest cruelties? What surprising acts of compassion do the soldiers perform for each other and even for their enemies? How does war affect the village of Eskibahçe?

11. Why does de Bernières use different narrators and different points of view in the novel? In what ways does this multiplicity of voices mirror some of the novel’s main concerns?

12. What is the significance of the relationships between Philothei and Ibrahim and between Karatavuk and Mehmetcik? Why are these young people so drawn to each other despite their religious differences?

13. In what ways can Birds Without Wings be read as a cautionary tale for our own times? What does the novel say about the large themes of love and war, revenge and forgiveness, self and others?

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Laura Sherrill, April 25, 2007 (view all comments by Laura Sherrill)
There is much to appreciate about this novel. Set in a Edenic village on the Turkish coast, historical events of the early 20th century play out on the human scale. De Bernieres tells this moving story through multiple perspectives, and we see the dark side of modernity, as his imperfect but engaging characters witness the fracturing of their peaceful way of life. War, nationalism, and religious intolerance bring a kind of larger wisdom to some, but not without tragedy. Parallels to our current times are unavoidable, making the story all the more poignant.
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Product Details

De Bernieres, Louis
Random House
de Bernieres, Louis
Louis De Bernieres
Historical - General
Edition Description:
Publication Date:
August 2004
9.32x6.64x1.42 in. 2.05 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture

Birds Without Wings Used Hardcover
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Product details 553 pages Alfred A. Knopf - English 9781400043415 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "It's been nearly a decade since Captain Corelli's Mandolin became a word-of-mouth bestseller (and then a major feature film), and devotees will eagerly dig into de Bernires' sweeping historical follow-up. This time the setting is the small Anatolian town of Eskibahe, in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. The large cast of characters of intermixed Turkish, Greek and Armenian descent includes breathtakingly lovely Philothei, a Christian girl, and her beloved Ibrahim, the childhood friend and Muslim to whom she is betrothed. The narrative immediately sets up Philothei's death and Ibrahim's madness as the focal tragedy caused by the sweep of history — but this is a bit of a red herring. Various first-person voices alternate in brief chapters with an authorial perspective that details the interactions of the town's residents as the region is torn apart by war; a parallel set of chapters follows the life of Kemal Atatrk, who established Turkey as a modern, secular country. The necessary historical information can be tedious, and stilted prose renders some key characters (like Philothei) one-dimensional. But when de Bernires relaxes his grip on the grand sweep of history — as he does with the lively and affecting anecdotes involving the Muslim landlord Rustem Bey and his wife and mistress — the results resonate with the very personal consequences that large-scale change can effect. Though some readers may balk at the novel's sheer heft, the reward is an effective and moving portrayal of a way of life — and lives — that might, if not for Bernires's careful exposition and imagination, be lost to memory forever. Agent, Lavinia Trevor. (Aug.)Forecast: Corelli had the advantage of WWII, a prominent love story and a movie tie-in; this book's period and setting are less familiar. Still, readers who enjoyed Corelli will be likely to give it a chance. 10-city author tour." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "So much is remarkable about this novel, from the heft of its history to the power of its legends. In this great bazaar of family life and international politics, the bittersweet metaphor of 'birds without wings' grows deeper and richer....This epic about the tragedy of borders is likely to cross all borders, moving readers everywhere as it describes the harrowing cost of remaking faraway places in the image of our dreams." (read the entire Christian Science Monitor review)
"Review" by , Birds Without Wings remains a quite astonishing, and compulsively readable, tour de force....This long, passionate, sometimes clumsy, always committed novel tells us more about our flawed human condition than is comfortable to know, and that is its greatest strength."
"Review" by , "[A] sweeping account of the rise of modern Turkey and the last days of the Ottoman Empire....[I]ntensely personal."
"Review" by , "Do read [Birds without Wings] before you die. It would be a terrible thing to have missed a work of such importance, beauty and compassion."
"Review" by , "An absorbing read about a remote but captivating time. The Ottoman world's break-up is a rich, poignant story, and Mr. de Bernières is a good storyteller. At times he is nearly as good as Dido Sotiriou."
"Review" by , "Dazzling...a fabulous book in the tradition of Tolstoy and Dickens....So joyous and heartbreaking, so rich and musical and wise, that reading it is like discovering anew the enchanting power of fiction."
"Review" by , "Louis de Bernieres is in the direct line that runs through Dickens and Evelyn Waugh...[H]e has only to look into his world, one senses, for it to rush into reality, colours and touch and taste."
"Review" by , "This is one of the great novels about the early 20th century and the emerging modern world, an epic of human disaster, on small and grand scales....One of the most profound and moving books you're likely to read."
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