Monday, September 29, 2008

An Epic Tale of Turkey

Louis De Bernieres is best known as the author of Correlli's Mandolin. He has also written another interesting epic, Birds Without Wings, about the tortured and tumultuous history of Turkey. Seen through the experiences of the people populating one small village, from the turn of the century through the 1930's, we learn about the heartbreaking changes that occur, altering all of their lives. The tale begins when the Turks, Armenians and Greeks live cooperatively, and moves forward to repeated conflicts and wars that create a sad diaspora as the residents scatter or are forced out. We meet families and witness horrific choices they must make, stories they must hide, people they must protect or destroy. There is a love story of a Christian girl and Muslim boy that is destined for tragedy, and a Greek harlot must hide her identity from the lonely and powerful Turkish village leader who takes her home. The portrait of Ataturk, the great hero who modernized and westernized the country, is particularly compelling as he develops from a very cunning manipulator into a genuine war hero with impressive tenacity and skills.

The author crafted this book like Correlli's Mandolin, by skillfully describing a particular village and the impact of wars over time on a cast of well developed characters living in the village. Reading this book requires some time and effort, but for anyone with a particular interest in Turkey, it is a compelling and powerful reading experience. I found it very helpful as I attempted to understand the complex experiences, ethnic conflicts and complicated history of Turkey.

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