Birds Without Wings is set against the backdrop of the fall of the Ottoman Empire - late 19th to early 20th century. It focuses on the fortunes of a small town in Anatolia. For generations , the Turkish, Greek & Armenian inhabitants have been living in harmony with each other, intermarrying and participating in each others lives and celebrations. The book charts their individual stories through World War I to the creation of the modern Turkish state. Concurrent with the story of this village, is the tale of the rise of Kemal Attaturk.
De Bernieres writing style is lucid, humane and ironic. There are many voices and points of view in the novel, from Iskander the Potter, Ibrahim the Mad, Philothei the Beautiful, Karatavuk's reports from the front at Gallipoli to Rustem Bey the local Pasha.
The Gallipoli campaign by the allies during WWI is described from the Turkish point of view. This is interesting, because as an Australian, I have always heard it from the ANZAC side.
Birds Without Wings is vast in scope and within its pages decries the stupidity of racial and religious hatred and the meaninglessness and soullessness of war. It is in turns brutal and heartbreaking and explains why the Smyrna outrage of 1922, so vividly described in Edward Whittemore's Sinai Tapestry, happened as it did.
The irony of forced deportations is described in heartrending detail. The Turkish Greeks being unable to speak Greek, are deported to Greece and Greek Turks being unable to speak Turkish, are deported to Turkey. The book asks, what madness is this?
I have previously only read one other book by De Bernieres, Captain Corelli's Mandolin which was also set during war time, albeit World War II.
Birds Without Wings was recommended to me by a friend who read the book during his recent travels in Turkey and raved about it. I am glad I took up his recommendation and would myself highly recommend it to anyone as an involving and engaging novel.