I have written about Birds Without Wings on this site before, when I first read it in 2006, so obviously this is a re-read. But it’s a book worth re-reading, because there’s a lot going on. De Bernieres is famous for having lush, complex plots, and this is a book about an extremely thorny and complex issue.
In 1923, the Treaty of Lausanne carved out a deal which involved the expulsion of millions of ethnic Greeks from Turkey in exchange for Muslim Greeks. This repatriation plan was designed to help ease long-running tensions between the two nations, by bringing people to their respective “homelands.” The result was chaos, as neither government prepared adequately, turning the expelled people into refugees who lost everything in the move, while their homes rotted into the ground in abandoned villages.
You can still visit some of these slowly disintegrating villages today, if you feel like marking the end of centuries of cultural exchange.This is of course a story which is far from simple, because these things are never simple. Numerous books have been written about it, from all sorts of points of view; Birds Without Wings just happens to be one of them, and it’s more accessible to English speaking readers because, well, it’s in English, not Turkish or Greek.
This is a book about displacement and diaspora, and about quiet, desperate misery. It enfolds the events of the First World War in Turkey, the inevitable cultural interchange which happens when Christians and Muslims live together in peace, and thousands of years of history and bitterness in the Anatolia. Because it’s Bernieres, it is both funny and heartbreaking, with scenes of pure glorious humour juxtaposed starkly with intense sadness.
I don’t know what to tell you about this book, other than that you should go read it.
Birds Without Wings, by Louis De Bernieres. Published 2004, 554 pages. Fiction.