Author: Sebastian Faulks
Category: Fiction, War History, Historical Fiction
Synopsis [c/o Barnes & Noble]: "Published to international critical and popular acclaim, this intensely romantic yet stunningly realistic novel spans three generations and the unimaginable gulf between the First World War and the present. As the young Englishman Stephen Wraysford passes through a tempestuous love affair with Isabelle Azaire in France and enters the dark, surreal world beneath the trenches of No Man's Land, Sebastian Faulks creates a world of fiction that is as tragic as A Farewell to Arms and as sensuous as The English Patient. Crafted from the ruins of war and the indestructibility of love, Birdsong is a novel that will be read and marveled at for years to come."
Overview: ^^Kind of a crappy synopsis. Thanks, B&N.
Since experiencing my very safe and non-violent period with the military, I've been a little obsessed with war novels. Let me clarify: I've never seen battle. I've never fired a weapon at anything other than a stationary target on a range. I've never seen anyone hurt, killed, wounded, anything in action. I was simply a supporter of those going to do all that; I believe technically I'm considered a veteran, but you will never ever hear me say that. I also think technically that my deployment is considered "going to war" but you won't hear me say that, either. I had a very lucky experience, but have always been curious to know exactly what sort of life I'm supporting. Hence the war novels...they give me just a tad more insight into what it could be like on the front, even though the novels I'm drawn to are from wars past and not present.
So, Birdsong is a WWI war story. However, to get to that point, we watch as the main character, Wraysford, falls in love and seduces a married woman. Life explodes with enough force to convince them to leave, live together, and be happy. Unfortunately for Wraysford, he seems to have picked the one woman who was attracted to the devilish inappropriateness of their relationship, and was not actually in love with him. His reaction to her abandonment shows face as the novel flashes forward to the future, a time in which he is now an officer on the French border, battling German forces. He has no heart; he has no cares; he is completely emotionally detached from all of his surroundings, but his time fighting forces him to realize that he may actually want to live, and he may want to live for a reason.
Birdsong also includes excerpts from present day characters, introducing a young woman who is desperate to unlock the mysteries of her family's past by decoding journals set by a young English soldier. She believes that by understanding what the war was like, she can also understand herself. She finds out that the past is not always what it seems, and even heroes can be unhappy.
I'm sort of in love with this novel. It was absolutely captivating; the details of the war front, the complete shell that men become when faced with so much horror, the bonds of companionship that are in constant danger with every shriek of a inbound bomb; none of it is pleasant to read, but Faulks forces the reader to comprehend exactly how terrible and mind-numbing war can be. It wasn't about how great you are in the trenches wielding a weapon; it was all about luck. I may again be reading too much into the novel, but the precursor to war including the young woman that Wraysford falls in love with shows the exact power that women are capable of holding over men, twisting them this way and that according to whim. It broke my heart to watch a young, in love man become a shadow of what he once was just because of a woman.
I would definitely recommend this novel. If you are a fan of war stories, intrigue, deception, love, and heartache, this book will definitely fulfill all of your expectations.