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Editorial Reviews

Why You Should Download This Audiobook: Hard to put into words the effect of this powerful historical novel. British author Louis de Bernieres has essentially created a world of vivid, finely drawn characters, whose simple lives will change irrevokably in the wake of World War I. Like the best novels based on real events, de Bernieres' Birds Without Wings enriches the listener's understanding of a period in history while revealing with great sensitivity the impact of terrible events on human lives.

Publisher's Summary

Birds Without Wings is the story of a small town in Anatolia in the dying days of the Ottoman Empire told in the richly varied voices of the men and women (Armenians, Christians, and Muslims) whose lives are intertwined and rooted there: Iskander, the potter and local fount of wisdom; Philotei, the Christian girl of legendary beauty, courted almost from infancy by Ibrahim the goatherd, a great love that culminates in tragedy and madness; and many more. When jihad is declared against the Franks and the young men of the town are conscripted, we follow Iskander's son, Karatavuk, to Gallipoli, where the intimate brutality of battle robs him of all innocence, just as the town he left behind is robbed of its centuries-old peace by the twin scourges of fanatical religion and nationalism that the war unleashed.
©2004 Louis de Bernieres; (P)2004 Books on Tape

What members say

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Not for the faint of heart

An intricate web of storytelling that brings an understanding to a part of WWI that has received such little attention. I am in awe of Louis De Bernieres' ability to impart through dialogue so much of the feeling, with such authenticity, the perspective of characters who are so foreign in every way. The one perspective that is not foreign, though, is their humanity, that which is common to us all. It is through the eyes and ears and hearts of these characters that we see the world in which they lived, the community that they shared, and the sometimes improbable lives that they led. De Bernieres weaves a complex story whcih demands much from his reader. If you can commit to that demand, he will deliver an unforgettable tale full of history, humanity, and humor. A masterpiece!

22 of 22 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Heber
  • Santa Teres, NM, USA
  • 11-12-07

Truely Excellent

The imagery, the characters the complex web of plots and themes is really quite overpowering. From the first line to the end of the book John Lee had me captivated and transported to such an unusuall reality that I couldn't stop listening.

The emotional depth is palpable, and even though it has been months since I have read this book I can't stop thinking about the characters: their innocent ignorance, sincere love and afection, and in some cases the bullheaded hatred. You cannot get them out of your head.

This isn't a light read, and it isn't for the faint of heart but highly recommended. You will remember it for years to come.

14 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Ira
  • Mill Valley, CA, USA
  • 10-15-05

Bird Without Wings

I so was moved by this book that I'm writing my first reader review. I previously read Paris 1919 and the two should read in sequence. Paris 1919 tell us of the machinations of rather stupid political leaders( Lloyd George, Wilson and Clemenceau) who in their effort to sort out national interests and greed for colonies, after WW 1 destroyed lives, nations and cultures. The Ottoman empire made many bad decisions such as joining the Germans in WW 1Turks as well as Greeks and Armenians paid a terible price. But their are enough tit for tat atrocities for all to share blame equally.. Thereare are no heroes,except the little people who are surviviors. De Berniere, in this well-told book tells us, in initmate. eloquent and graphic terms the implication of decisions by leaders caught up in their own national and self interest (something like Iraq today) reaping horrible unintended consequences on the lives of little people in a small town in Anatolia - todays Turkey. Bird without Wings is a story of people whose lives were greatly altered if not destroyed by so called bigger people who exercised horrible political judgments which fed nationalisitic and religious ferocity.
The little people of this novel are wonderfully colorful and full of delightful rural small town normalcy and quirkiness. De Bernieres uses fascinating literary strategies. A gentle man who is both merchant and philanthropist. is shot and thrown into the bay. While drowning he spends his last seconds ( about 10 minutes of dialogue) telling us, in eloquent and forceful language of the sequence of political and personal events by the Paris 1919 leaders that led to his self witnssed. death.
I wish there more stars than five. Again- read in conjunction with Paris 1919. The two together are powerfully good reads ( listens).

13 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • P
  • Tucson, AZ, USA
  • 06-02-07


This book -- both wonderfully written and narrated -- transports you to the small villages in Turkey in ther early 1900's. Birds allows you walk hand in hand with the characters as they journey through life largely driven by decisions made during and after WWI had and experience the lives of the Turks and Greeks at that time.

Echoing the suggestion of another reviewer, I highly recommend reading Paris 1919 in conjunction with Birds Without Wings. Together they provide a complete perspective on how these -- and other -- countries were forever altered by both the war and the decisions made at the peace table.

Birds Without Wings is wonderful love story, a lesson in history, and a tremendous insight into Muslim and Christian religions. I even bought a waterproof Ipod case so that I could listen to the book while swimming!

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • William
  • Atlanta, GA, USA
  • 06-20-05

Great entertainment with a bit of history

This was one of the moste enjoyable titles I've listened to in quite a while. The book skips from the first-hand, fictional stories of the major characters to an omniscient narrator who puts the stories in a hard historical context. Its initial vignettes reminded me of Chaucer, Twain and even Garrison Kieler. Like the Great Powers, the listener is subtly pulled into the horrors of war and the ethnic cleansing which has plagued the Balkans for centuries. The narrator, John Lee, is superb. His suite of seamless voices and accents believably convey and elaborate each character's nuance.
Buy it.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Bill
  • New Paltz, NY, USA
  • 05-08-05


I say 'haunting' because it is several weeks since I listened to this book, and the characters still reverberate in my head. The reading is wonderful, it captures the inflection and state of mind of the speaker. The reader is also very versitle and when he switches characters you don't get lost and you begin to actually seen the world through the character's eyes even while you marvel at the shape and strangeness of their world. The world he creates is every bit as articulate as Faulkner's. The big flaw in the book is the whole Kamel Ataturk sequence. After the finely textured lives and lines of the active characters, these passages just go flat. The author is seeking to situate his characters within the larger social context, but sometimes it gets lost. His Koratavok, Polixinee, Memenchik, Philotae, Rustan Bey, Tamarah-hanum and all the others will stay in my mind for a long, long time.

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Paul
  • Highland Park, IL, USA
  • 05-22-06

The Eastern Mediterranean, Explained

This is a great book, provided you bear with the author's chatty, digressive style. But believe it or not, most of what appear to be loose threads in the oriental rug are tied up by the time you reach the end. Also, the point of view changes from chapter to chapter, and not every author can pull off a trick like that; it takes very close attention to detail, and that's something this author has in abundance.

The story focuses on a small, inconsequential village in Turkey between ca. 1900 and 1925. The village is tossed on the sea of world events, and is radically changed, unfortunately for the worse. It also contains a series of vignettes on the life and career of Hamal Ataturk, considered the founder of modern Turkey. Turkey's involvement in World War I and subsequent conflicts with Greece are major themes for this work. If history is not your cup of tea, but you like a good story, I suggest you read a little bit about the development of modern Turkey.

This book has a vast range of characters. Sometimes I wondered if it was really the village that was the main character, and the people are really different facets of the one municipal personality. Overall, highly recommended.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Jackie
  • Crystal River, FL, USA
  • 11-01-05

Beautifully written. Moving and heartfelt.

John Lee's narration brings to life the little village where this title is centered. The interwoven stories of the lives of the varied people connect through historical events and shared human emotions. The words of this book are beautiful and the life Lee brings to them leaves a lasting impression. Also memorable are the characters themselves. Louis de Bernieres has succeeded in telling a complex tale without sacrificing the richness and fullness of his characters. This book is full of emotion, set in the early 1900's, it is a story of love and a story of war. It is about the birth of a nation and the death of a people. This book has given me insight to a previously unexplored world, and had me both grining and weeping. This is a fantastic book. I will be seeking out his other works in print and hope to see them on Audible soon!

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Beautiful, disgusting, heart wrenching

Would you listen to Birds Without Wings again? Why?

Yes - but it's painful. This book soars to such heights of beauty, describing the lives of simple people in a complex time, but also descends to the depths of depravity with them during some of the darkest times I've ever heard described. It is nuanced, tender, and I was alternately heart broken and thankful when it was over.

Who was your favorite character and why?

I don't think there is a favorite. Eskibahçe, really, is the hero - yes, I know it's the setting. But this place, with its Turks (Ottomans) and its Turkish written in Greek script, its water fountain and grave of the saint, its cubbies for shoes by the doors and its plane trees, really seems to be the beating heart of the tale, even as the people walk on and off the stage.

What about John Lee’s performance did you like?

He brought heart to the horror of some of the battle scenes. I was unable to fast forward even the worst parts (and yes, there are some REALLY gruesome parts) because I felt like he was taking me by the hand, showing me the worst and leading me past it to get back to the best.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I laughed, a lot. I cried, a lot. It is a wonderful, immersive book, and one I'd recommend to anyone but my mother, who can't stand a book or movie without a happy ending.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Michael
  • Sun City, AZ, United States
  • 10-20-08

Journey in another time

This book transports you to a small village in Turkey (Ottoman Empire)in ther early 1900's. How people of diffrent core beliefs can live together and yes trust each other because they take them for what they are - human. How simple things make life better for us all. However a larger less friendly and less understanding world is just outside their village, and when it arrives everything changes - forever. You walk hand in hand with the characters as they journey through their lives and feel both the joy and sorrow of their changing world.
Wonderfully written and the narration by John Lee is just superb. He makes you feel like your living in this village. I highly recommend!

6 of 7 people found this review helpful