by Sebastian Faulks

Hardcover, 1996

Call number




Random House (1996), Edition: 1st US ed, 402 pages


Rootless and heartbroken Stephen Wraysford joins the army at the outbreak of World War I. He and his men are given the assignment to tunnel under the German lines and set off bombs. The comaraderie, love, and loyalty of the soldiers contrasts with the horrors of the underground, air, and trench warfare.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Smiler69
I was very much looking forward to reading this book set in a period which fascinates me, the early 20th century and WWI, and had big expectation considering it was the recipient of many awards and mentions and seemed to be highly appreciated by LT readers. Though there were many elements there to
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hold my attention, I never quite connected with the story or the characters. Stephen Wraysford finds himself on a business visit in Amiens, France in 1910, where he quickly falls in love with his host's wife, Isabelle Azaire. She is the much younger wife of a local textile baron with whom she has little in common, and in no time at all she and Stephen are exploring their passion and sexuality in very explicit erotic interludes which had me blushing and simultaneously worried I'd picked an erotica book by mistake. But the reality of war and trench warfare comes in stark contrast to this love affair. This part of the novel, which makes up a good part of the story is just as explicit in describing the battles and countless deaths and maimed bodies, and while the anti-war message is made amply clear, the disillusionment Stephen goes through failed to touch me, because the spectacle of blood and gore and flying body parts made me feel like an indecent voyeur and as such cut off from complex emotions. The added layer of story, with Stephen's granddaughter attempting to decipher some of the encrypted diaries he left behind felt awkward and unnecessary. If it was meant to provide a different perspective from which to view the events, it didn't quite work for me. Having said all that, it's a good story and I did appreciate much of the narrative, but it failed to impress and is not one that I'll be likely to revisit.
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LibraryThing member Cariola
Faulks's vivid prose captures better than any other novel I've read the experience of being a soldier in the trenches in World War I. Stephen Wraysford, recovering from a passionate romance that didn't work out as planned, finds himself, like so many other young men, struggling to survive in the
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tunnels, trenches, and fields of France. The descriptions of battles, bodies, and wounds are horrific; I couldn't help but think what a sanitized view of warfare we are given today. In the midst of it all, Stephen is torn between wanting to withdraw into himself--why make friends with a man who might be blown to bits beside you the next day?--and to retain a measure of humanity. There's a second story line, set in the late 1970s, as Stephen's granddaughter uncovers a series of family secrets; but it's the reality of war that makes this novel memorable.
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LibraryThing member robertjh
Had very mixed feelings about this book. I loved the scenes set in the trenches and Sebastian appears to have been incredibly diligent in the research he has done to portray the time in which the book is set. The insight into the use of tunnels in the war and its inherent claustrophobia is also
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great (I've seen it said that this was practically unknown, though the British comic strip, Charley's War, had covered the same territory more than 10 years before this book was first published). However, I also had huge difficulties with the book too. Away from the battlefields I found the characters overbearing and self righteous and that really grated with me. Overall, I felt the writer's characterization to be much less compelling that the evocation of the time. But when we're in the trenches, this book is mesmerising.
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LibraryThing member DebbieMcCauley
The novel spans the life of Stephen Wraysford before and during World War I (1914-1918), and also the life of Stephen's granddaughter, Elizabeth, as she tries to find out more about her grandfather's war experience. It moves between France 1910; France 1916; England 1978; France 1917; England
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1978-1979; France 1918 and England 1979. Elizabeth's mother was the result of Stephen love affair with married woman Isabelle Azaire in France. Maybe I've just read too many war stories of late but I had to skim pages in my attempt to finish this novel. The part that touched me most was the description of the end of the war on pages 484 and 485.
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LibraryThing member TheoClarke
The power of this book lies in its dispassionate description of passions. Despite its apparently optimistic ending, this is a novel of loss. The main protagonist is no hero; Wraysford is amoral and agnomic. His journey from adultery to late proxy fatherhood by way of years on the Western Front is
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interesting but not engaging except when he is cuckolding his landlord or amidst the bleak horrors of combat. The intensity of the early erotic scenes and the banality of the pervasive terror of the trenches are conveyed with masterly clarity at odds with the apparent redundancy of the 1970s framing story.
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LibraryThing member VictoriaNH
This book was slow going and the characters were unremarkable. Could not get into it. The war depictions were long and tedious and I couldn't distinguish between characters as they were poorly portrayed.
LibraryThing member John
A very good book. There is a substantial literature based on WWI, and it has been added to in recent years, but this is one of the best for its depiction of the end of an era, the horror, stupidity and waste of the war, the almost inhuman physical and mental demands and anguish, shattering
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descriptions of failed attacks and the impacts of high explosives and bullets on the human body, the way different people rationalized/justified the war because they were trapped in it, the senseless waste of so much human life and potential for no discernable, defensible ends, the gulf between the men in the war and those on the "home front" who had no possible idea of what it entailed, as well as the gulf between the men in the line and the staff officers who planned and executed their follies, the shattering effect of the war on those who survived but were marked forever. But there is a whisper of hope in the end in a sort of reconciliation between Stephen Wraysford, British, and a German officer who each reaches beyond his national prejudices and hatreds to embrace the greater good and essence of their common humanity. And there is eroticism, love, lust, loss, and redemption plus, finally, a sense of connecting and reaching across generations and time.

The book begins as a novel of love in an era that does not know that it is dying. Stephen Wraysford, a young (20) Englishman goes to Amiens in 1910 to live with a French textile manufacturer and his family while he learns the business. There are wonderful descriptions of the town itself, the stilted social life of the upper, mercantile class, and day excursions around the Somme area redolent with pathos for those who know that these sylvan settings will be replaced in a few years by the horror and carnage of the front. Stephen and the manufacturer's wife, Isabelle, fall into a passionate love affair that leads to their leaving Amiens. Stephen finds work as a carpenter's apprentice, Isabella becomes pregnant and then succumbs to pressures and guilts that she cannot overcome except by leaving Stephen. The first part of the book ends with Stephen shattered by Isabella's unannounced departure, also not knowing that she is pregnant. There is a re-connection, but not reconciliation, with Isabelle later in the book, through her sister whom Stephen sees while on leave in Amiens, and later there is a generational connection when Stephen's granddaughter begins to explore her heritage and tries to find out what this man, Stephen Wraysford, was like.

The bulk of the book then centres on Stephen's experiences on the front as a lieutenant in the British army and in the face of some of the worst fighting at the Somme and Ypres, and a particularly interesting connection with tunnellers, the men who dug to mine the German trenches from below and who fought their war in a narrow, dark, dangerous world. Gripping, moving descriptions of the fear, the horror of the trenches and the tunnels, and the ways men struggled to deal with the unbelievable pressures. Faulks shows the incredible resiliency of human capacities, remarked upon in much of the literature of the war: men march out of the line crushed mentally and physically and fatigued beyond endurance, and after a couple of days of rest, washing, and better food, they laugh and enjoy life again; they do not overcome or forget their experiences, and the mental struggles and scars are deep, but physically and at least outwardly, the recovery is remarkable.

I enjoyed a few literary echoes that I came across, some of which might have been intentional by Faulks:

A description of battle:
Once more in ragged suicidal line they trudged towards the pattering death of mounted guns.

Recalled Owen in Anthem for Doomed Youth:

What passing bells for these who die as cattle?
--Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.

A description of Stephen, wounded:
Stephen felt a profound weariness. He wanted to sleep in long draughts of days, twenty at a time, in perfect silence. As consciousness returned he seemed able to manage only shallow sleep. He dipped in and out of it and sometimes when he awoke he found his body had been moved. He was unaware of the pattering rain on his face. Each time he awoke the pain seemed to have intensified...He yearned for sleep; with what willpower he could muster he forced away the waking world and urged himself into darkness.

Recalled, The Death Bed, by Sassoon:

He drowsed and was aware of silence heaped
Round him, unshaken as the steadfast walls;
Aqueous like floating rays of amber light,
Soaring and quivering in the wings of sleep.
Silence and safety; and his mortal shore
Lipped by the inward, moonless waves of death.


Rain-he could hear it rustling through the dark;
Fragrance and passionless music woven as one;
Warm rain on drooping roses; pattering showers
That soak the woods; not the harsh rain that sweeps
Behind the thunder, but a trickling peace,
Gently and slowly washing life away.

He stirred, shifting his body; then the pain
Leapt like a prowling beast, and gripped and tore
His groping dreams with grinding claws and fangs.


Towards the end of the book:
No hurricane of bullets met him, no tearing metal kiss.

Recalled The Kiss, by Sassoon:

To these I turn, in these I trust--
Brother Lead and Sister Steel.
To his blind power I make appeal,
I guard her beauty clean from rust.

He spins and burns and loves the air,
And splits a skull to win my praise;
But up the nobly marching days
She glitters naked, cold and fair.

Sweet sister, grant your soldier this:
That in good fury he may feel
The body where he sets his heel
Quail from your downward darting kiss.

In fact, I thought the following might have been from The Kiss, but then remembered that it is from Dead Man's Dump by Rosenberg:

None saw their spirits' shadow shake the grass,
Or stood aside for the half used life to pass
Out of those doomed nostrils and the
doomed mouth,
When the swift iron burning bee
Drained the wild honey of their youth.

The best association comes at the end of the book. Stephen has been trapped underground for 6/7 days because of an explosion set off by the Germans to thwart the tunnelling. Only Stephen and one other man survive (Jack Firestone, an excellent character in the book): Firestone is more severely wounded and eventually dies. Stephen sets off a charge to try to draw the attention to the fact that he is still alive, but it is the Germans who find him, because the charge in turn killed three Germans who, unknown to Stephen, were in adjacent tunnels. The officer in charge is the brother of one of the men Stephen killed. When they meet, Stephen's instinctive reaction is to try to fight as he conjures up images of all his friends killed and his hatred of the enemy. But:

Far beyond thought, the resolution came to him and he found his arms, still raised, begin to spread and open.
Levi looked at this wild-eyed figure, half-demented, his brother's killer. For no reason he could tell, he found that he had opened his own arms in turn, and the two men fell upon each other's shoulders, weeping at the bitter strangeness of their lives.

Recalled Strange Meeting by Owen where a soldier who has just been killed meets, in hell, the man he had killed the day before. The opening lines even recall the horror of being trapped underground that Faulks so well conveys in describing Stephen's drive to stay alive in the dark, narrow tunnels that come to resemble nothing as much as earthen coffins.

It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.


"I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark; for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now...".

For Owen, the antagonists find their common humanity in death; at least with Faulks Stephen finds it in life.
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LibraryThing member john257hopper
Certainly the best first world bar based novel I have read, for me this far excels Pat Barker's Regeneration or All Quiet on the Western Front. The emotional power of the writing, especially during the long underground sequence near the end, is enormous. A stunning read.
LibraryThing member NaggedMan
Deserves to become a classic. Sometimes amusing, sometimes comic, sometimes unbearably moving. Everyone who loves books and good writing should read this book.
LibraryThing member BookMarkMe
A book of multiple personalities. The depiction of trench warfare and the exploration of the characters involved tore at my emotions, so much so that I was in floods of tears at the conclusion.

However, the initial love story just didn't ring true for me, nor did it add appreciably to my
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understanding of the lead character. Secondly I found the 1970's section a forced add-on.

Saying all that; taking the book as a whole, its a thumping good read that tugs at the heartstrings. It gives you a firm slap to remind you of the suffering of a whole generation of 'doomed youth'.
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LibraryThing member DanielSTJ
This was a decent book, but its turns and spiraling narrative proved to be disagreeable to me at points. The novel meanders and wavers at certain points. There are beautiful and remarkable scenes, but at the same time there is much energy and overabundance of material that could have been cut prior
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to the publishing of the novel. Additionally, the ending to me did not seem real enough and I was left unsatisfied by the book's conclusion.

Fair, with great parts, but that is all.
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LibraryThing member bcrowl399
I was expecting a little more from this book based on the reviews I'd read. It was well written, poignant, captivating. However there were times when the details were skimmed over and other places where the details were given too much weight and time in the book. It claims to be a story about love,
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but I'm not sure about that. There was love in the story, but there was an emphasis on the war, a little too much for me. A small but annoying feature of the book is that it's divided into segments but there is no table of contents. Why bother if you don't have a table of contents? Some of the characters were fleshed out a little better than others, but that could have been my memory as well. It was really long and I was very ready for it to end. The ending was very satisfying, though and I actually cried about the baby's name.
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LibraryThing member steller0707
This is a book of WWI in Flanders. Within days of finishing it I spent a few days in Flanders, learning the story of this area where I realized how well this area of combat had been researched. I visited the cemeteries, and toured the tunnels in Arras that were so important in both world wars and
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gained a greater appreciation for the novel. While battles, strategies and the brutality of the war is faithfully told, the romance which serves as a frame for the story seems contrived as does the 1970s portions where a woman researches her ancestor.
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LibraryThing member kambrogi
Orphaned as a child and haunted by abandonment and lack of human connection, Englishman Stephen Wraysford faces a painful coming of age between the ages of 20 and 27. After his ill-fated love affair with a married Frenchwoman, he faces the horrors of WWI trench warfare. In his attempt to survive
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the effects of brutality and loss, he discovers his own will to live, and finds his place in the society of humankind. It is hard to understand how this was not a huge award-winner when it was published in 1993. It is a beautifully written tale, well researched and brought to astonishing life, as it weaves together the suffering of WWI with a moving romance and its optimistic outcome a generation later. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member penguinasana
xcellent, with the exception of the last 5 pages which were very cheesy and nearly overshadowed the rest of the book. The narrative jumps between two time periods. I found both interesting, but the WWI storyline was far longer and more in-depth, while the 1970s time had the feeling of being very
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tacked on. I was frustrated b/c the characters and story of the 1970s plotline were also compelling, but weren't nearly as explored or developed.
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LibraryThing member TheLoopyLibrarian
Birdsong was passionate and yet dispassionate, graphic yet cold, unflinching yet painful. It was a study in contrasts as is often the case with the subjects of love and war. The author does not glorify love or war but rather exposes their ugly underbellies – what happens when desperation takes
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hold. The descriptions of war were almost poetic in their brutality. Love was not as romantic as dreamers like to think it is. I felt the horror of it all, particularly the battle of the Somme, and saw how it could destroy a man or change him irrevocably. The ending was appropriate but seemed almost cliche compared to the rest of this remarkable book. I highly recommend it for readers of historical fiction, especially those interested in World War I.

Favorite quotes:

“What happened a few miles away was kept secret. None of these men would admit that what they saw and what they did were beyond the boundaries of human behavior” (p. 136).

“There were in their own view a formidable group of men. No inferno would now melt them, no storm destroy, because they had seen the worst and they had survived” (p. 270).

“The random violence of the world ran supreme; there was no point in trying to find an explanation” (p. 328).
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LibraryThing member Intemerata
The parts of this book describing life in the trenches are fantastic, but I didn't enjoy the other parts as much. In particular, I found Elizabeth a very irritating character: I find it hard to believe that anyone could get to the age of 30 without ever having heard of either war memorials or the
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Spanish flu.
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LibraryThing member rrravenita
I absolutely loved this book that I thought I would hate! I'm not one to read anything having to do with wars (too violent for my tastes, I suppose), but this was chosen as a pick for my book club, so I really didn't have much choice. And I'm so glad it was! It was a book I never would have picked,
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and so would have missed out on what turned out to be a fantastic read.

As much as I thought I knew about WWII, I certainly learned an immense amount. Both my grandfather and grandmother served in WWII, and though that was a different war, Birdsong gave me so much insight into what those soldiers went through. The shift in perspective was a bit confusing at the outset, but came to make sense and give the reader some relief to the oppression that Wraysford the other men must try to survive. This is a story that is haunting, tragic, redeeming, but in the end, one that I believe will stay with me for many years to come. I highly recommend this book.
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LibraryThing member Clara53
An epic tumultuous saga, starting from 1910 to 1918, and then jumping to 1978-79, a follow up of sorts. 1910, France - an ardent and brief love affair (which didn't particularly grab my heart, like I expected it would) between a British man and a Frenchwoman, and then - when the protagonist joins
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the war - a most horrifically poignant description of the First World War on French soil, with British forces involved. An unusual denouement at the end of the novel. One of the scenes that appealed to me in this part of the book was when Elizabeth (the granddaughter of the main character), in search of her roots, has a meeting with an old compatriot of her grandfather in the veterans' hospital where this man had spent 60 years... All in all, the writing and the characters were not what I would expect from a novel that received so much recognition.
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LibraryThing member wordbyword
On the one hand this book, with its detailed glimpses into the trench warfare of WWI, affected me greatly. The author did an incredible job of depicting the heart-wrenching reality of the war and of life in the trenches. And of the senselessness, horror, sorrow, and moments of redemption within it
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all. He clearly is a skilled writer and many of the passages from the war were truly haunting and will stay with me for a good long time.

But, despite this, I found other sections of the book were emotionally flat. The characters were well described, I could really see them clearly, yet they moved in and out of the story without engaging me or without seeming to serve much purpose. Stuart, in the modern-day side-story of Elizabeth and her quest for information about her grandfather, is one such example. What happened to Stuart and where did he go? In fact the whole story of Elizabeth seemed tacked on somehow.

Nor did I really engage with the first part of the book, the love story between Stephen and Isabelle. Apart from a couple of explicit love scenes, I didn't get any sense of depth of feeling between the two characters. The author told me about the feelings the characters had but he didn't make me believe him. But maybe he really just wanted to tell the story of the war and most of his energies went into doing that because he certainly did a good job there. Maybe the other parts were just padding.
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LibraryThing member Castlelass
Beautifully written novel about life, love, friendship, and war. It begins with Englishman Stephen Wraysford’s life prior to the start of World War I. He is sent to work in Amiens, France, where he falls in love with the factory owner’s wife. It then moves forward to France in 1916. Stephen is
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a lieutenant in the British Army, which is engaged in trench warfare. The last part is based in the 1970s. Stephen’s granddaughter, Elizabeth, is attempting to track down what happened to her grandfather after discovering several journals he wrote during the war.

Faulks’s elegant writing is filled with vivid imagery. We follow Stephen to the battlefield, experiencing the sights, sounds, and horrors of war. There is a scene in which Stephen and another soldier are trapped in an underground tunnel. I experienced a sense of claustrophobia that was almost palpable. We also accompany Elizabeth as she visits a veteran in an asylum many years later, showing him the tenderness and compassion that he has missed in his isolated environment.

This book contains seven sections and three time periods. It explores a wide variety of themes, including love, heartbreak, loneliness, fear, and courage. It also takes a look at the psychological effects of war and the attempt to maintain some semblance of humanity under excruciating conditions. It is a difficult read in many places, but also feels authentic. The book examines the futility of war and the deep wounds it leaves on society. It also includes a hopeful note about remembrance and the circle of life. The characters seem so genuine that I missed them when I finished the book. I simply loved it and am adding it to my list of favorites.
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LibraryThing member artikaur
Birdsong was supposed to be a love story between Isabelle (a married woman with two stepchildren), and Stephen (a young Englishman) during the WWI era. About halfway through the book, Isabelle just sort of drops off the face of the Earth, and runs off with Max. Her sister seems to fill a void in
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Stephen's life. There are too many soldier names to keep track of, and the book was just plain old boring. It wasn't quite a full love story, and it wasn't quite a war story either. It was bits and pieces strung together, and it just didn't make for interesting reading.

After reading the book, I just didn't feel invested in the characters. The book did, however, make me more interested in learning about World War 1, and the living conditions that the soldiers had to endure during trench life.

Overall, I felt that the book had no solid storyline to hang its hat on, and it took me a long time to finish it, not because it was long, but because it just didn't hold my interest.
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LibraryThing member AdonisGuilfoyle
This book is regularly promoted as a modern classic in reviews, but I have to confess that I found Faulks' wartime narrative lacking in depth and impact. Remarque's 'All Quiet on the Western Front' is far more haunting and powerful at half the length, but then, he actually fought in the Great War.
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Reading war poetry and simple accounts of the hideous battles from soldiers' perspectives sends shivers down my spine, but Faulks' writing, for all his lyrical prose, didn't really move me at all. Perhaps Stephen Wraysford is an unsympathetic character, cold and slightly disturbed (even before going to war), but that shouldn't really make a difference in a story like this. The story is war, and characters are forged on the front.

The first part of the novel is set in France, four years before the start of the war. Stephen Wraysford is sent to stay with the family of a wealthy manufacturer in a town on the River Somme (early locations obviously meant to jar with later events), where he pursues and seduces the 'repressed' wife of his host. The complexity of both Stephen and Isabelle's characters elevates this 'romance' above the usual cliched fairytale, but only just - Isabelle is like Anna Karenina, driven by desire to abandon her family, but unable to find happiness with her lover. Skip to 1916, and Stephen is now a moody officer in the British army, supervising the trenches around the Somme, leading up to the tragic and staggering losses of the offensive. Though I'm not particularly au fait with the order of battles and the battalions who fought, I think Faulks relates the complex military strategies well, but he doesn't really get across the fear and despair of the men. I can appreciate the horror of the trenches and the stark terror of the men going over the top, but could anyway, just from general awareness of historical events. This fictional account really isn't as effective as Wilfred Owen's poetry, or even a documentary on television, for conveying what it must have been like to fight in the First World War.

The separate thread of Stephen's granddaughter in 1979 is similar to the narrative structure of Elizabeth Kostova's 'The Historian', framing the past, and just as unnecessary. Her ignorance is so baffling that I can only assume Faulks intended to contrast the self-absorption of 'modern' generation with the sacrifice of the fallen - I think even I would recognise the Thiepval war memorial, but she asks dumb questions before sagging in a heap and muttering, 'I didn't know, nobody told me!' (Nor does she believe that her grandmother died from 'flu in 1919!) The plot device of her pregancy and the neat, cyclical ending are contrived, just as Stephen's fate is far too politically correct and fanciful to be believed.

An epic attempt that is worth a read (if only to educate the Elizabeths of today), but for an honest and emotional insight of the war, I would recommend Remarque's iconic book instead.
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LibraryThing member ryanb7288
While 'Birdsong' keeps its focus on the 1910-1916 years, it excels as both a heartbreaking story of forbidden love and a worm's-eye account of one man's harrowing experience in the Great War. However, when the action switches to a present-day descendent of these characters becoming (sort-of)
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obsessed with finding out more about grandma and grandpa's life stories (for reasons which are never fully or believably explained), author Sebastian Faulks drops the ball, taking the reader out of the story he's REALLY interested in, and falling back on the same weak cliches we've seen not work before in stories such as 'Bridges of Madison County'. Having said that, Faulks doesn't spend very much time on the present-day story, thankfully, and a good three-fourths of this novel is really amazing, heartfelt and horrific. Definitely worth a read.
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LibraryThing member m-andrews
A powerful, graphic, and poignant account of the First World War as told from the perspective of two central characters on the frontline as well as the granddaughter of one of the characters, who pieces together the central character's story from his writings on the frontline. Gripping, readable,
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literary – I could not recommend this book highly enough (although the opening chapters of the book are strongly sexual: you've been warned).

One of the most powerful moments in the book, for me, was the starkly depicted difference between the nihilistic carnage of the brokenness of war and the unifying sense of peace and longing for forgiveness that the central character's return to his home brings – a desire for eschatological unity. On the battlefield, the army chaplain chucks his cross away on the battlefield, giving up any kind of hope in his deity in the face of complete human corruption. This compared with Stephen's longing for unity, peace, and, ultimately, redemption when he walks on home soil for a break before heading back to the French battlefield. Here's a snippet of how Stephen feels when he returns home: ''He wanted to stretch out his arms and enfold them in the fields, the sky, the elms with their sounding birds; he wanted to hold them with the unending forgiveness of a father to his prodigal, errant but beloved son, Isabelle and the cruel dead of the war; his lost mother, his friend Weir: nothing was immoral or beyond redemption, all could be brought together, understood in the long perspective of forgiveness. As he clung to the wood, he wanted also to be forgiven for all he had done; he longed for the unity of the world's creation to melt his sins and anger, because his soul was joined to it. His body shook with the passion of the love that had found him, from which he had been exiled in the blood and the flesh of long killing' (p. 363).

Self-sacrifice is so often a theme in great literature – and yet again this book depicts the death of one of its central characters as dying on his own cross, while asking that he be taken off it. Of course, the character who dies underground (Jack) does not actually die on his own cross, but simply recalls in a hallucinatory soliloquy his days mining on the Underground, and asks that he be taken off the cross which created the old cut-and-cover tubes of today. The author is made to feel that he is rabbiting on about a load of rubbish and that he has lost his mind, but in fact, he touches upon a sobering thought. While he has willingly fought in battle for his country, at the end it all feels so pointless. What a waste: 'take me off this cross'.

Moments later, as the book comes to an end, Faulks splashes a note of hope across the final pages with talk of new life and new hope, of the aforementioned forgiveness which Stephen longed for on his return to home soil. This time on the actual battlefield, as Stephen and the German search party which finds him forgive one another with arms outstretched in a loving embrace. The final chapter leaves us with new birth, new hope, and a new generation: one which Faulks, and I also, hope will not repeat the same grievous errors.

Powerful, highly recommended reading.
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