On Sunday afternoons on the ABC there is a little five minute show were they talk to an author and discuss their latest books. Normally the author is some real literary person and I have no idea who they are. I was however fortunate enough to catch the episode where they talked to Louis de Bernieres about his latest book ‘Birds Without Wings’ (you might know him from his book ‘Corelli’s Mandolin…or the guy that wrote that book that was made into a Nicholas Cage movie). After listening to the basis of the story I knew that I wanted to read it. A year later I actually found the book in the bookshop and impulse bought it, I never once regretted my purchase.
This is a historical novel that was easy to understand and taught me a lot about the events preempting and continuing throughout World War I. Set in Anatolia (modern day Turkey) during the early 1900’s this story follows the lives of the members of a Christian (Greek) and Muslim (Turkish) community. Throughout the story we also follow the life and rise to politics of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk the first president of Turkey.
I loved this story and its characters. From the first descriptions of the town I knew that I would have love to live there. Clay houses with bright blue doors, old men playing backgammon in the cafe while smoking water pipes, children running around and collecting wild greens.
Not only was the town picturesque it was also tolerant (this was something that I really took away from this story). A town where Muslim and Christians are so integrated that converting to marry someone was not a huge deal. When and Muslim was ill they would ask there Christian friends to pray to virgin Mary and Christians would visit the iman for pieces of paper with Koran verse written on them to eat.
The hardest thing these people had to face was when their young men went of to fight the jihad (the battle of Gallipoli is described with chilling details). Upon returning their village would never be the same. Once they all considered themselves Ottomans now their religion defined them to the government and they were forced to migrate to other like nations.
Towards the end of the novel I was really upset. It seems unfair that politicians so detached from communities get to decide who gets what land and where people have to live. Think of Cyprus and the whole of the Middle East… white man comes in and decided who gets what and never once meeting the people or understanding the significance this land has to them. The same thing happened in Turkey. Mustafa Kemal decided that Turkey was going to be a modern Muslim state therefore all Christians had to be removed to Greece. Family removed from their family homes and life long friendships broken up. Instead of being split up what we really need is places like this community that taught tolerance to their children to be passed along to future generations.
This has to be one of my Top 5 books. I will definitely be recommending it to everyone. This story is why I read. Please add this to your reading list and I don’t think you will be disappointed.