Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | September 4, 2010

molly’s cafe book review: birds without wings

Someone brought this book some time ago and I started reading it, then put it down because I was not in the mood for yet another books about turkey. However, I took it to Canada (and back) with me and really enjoyed it.

Louis de Bernieres truly got into these characters. The time is the end of the Ottoman empire and the beginning of the formation of the republic. The setting is mostly a small village in the south of Turkey. There is a mixed cultural group of Turks, Greeks, and Armenians living in the village. The Turks often pray at the Madonna, just in case, and the Greeks ask for intercession with the Muslims. Everyone interacts, as neighbours do. Two boys in particular become friends; the father of one is a potter and makes whistles for them that sounds like two birds, the karatavuk and the mehmetcik. Thus the boys become known by those names. There is also a beautiful young Greek woman, Philotei, her homely friend, Drosoula, Rustem Bey, the town leader, his wife, and then his pseudo Circassian consort, who is actually Greek.  There are other characters, including the imam and the Greek priest, as well as an unhappy Greek teacher who is constantly writing about Anatolia reverting back to Greece.  The characters also include Mustafa Kemal, who later becomes Ataturk. His character and that of Philotei and some others, are developed by chapters by or about them.

The characters and the setting are charming or quirky, but as the story progresses, faraway conflicts such as the Armenian displacement and the war in Gallipoli reach into the village. The population exchange of Greeks and Turks also reaches the bewildered villagers.  This was a tumultuous period of Turkish history and de Bernieres really catches the innocence and loss of it.

Since I have lived here for a long time, I really admire how someone who sort of dropped into this history was able to catch such detail. In addition, his writing is flawless and carries the story well. I highly recommend it. It’s in the café now, but may fly away soon…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: