Birdsong

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9780099528388: Birdsong

In 1910 a young Englishman, Stephen Wraysford, goes to Picardy, France, to learn the textile business. While there he plunges into a love affair with the young wife of his host, a passion so imperative and consuming that it changes him forever. Several years later, with the outbreak of World War I, he finds himself again in the fields of Picardy, this time as a soldier on the Western Front. A strange, occasionally bitter man, Stephen is possessed of an inexplicable will to survive. He struggles through the hideously bloody battles of the Marne, Verdun, and the Somme (in the last named, thirty thousand British soldiers were killed in the first half hour alone), camps for weeks at a time in the verminous trenches, and hunkers in underground tunnels as he watches many of the companions he has grown to love perish. In spite of everything, Stephen manages to find hope and meaning in the blasted world he inhabits.

Sixty years after war's end, his granddaughter discovers, and keeps, Stephen's promise to a dying man. Sebastian Faulks brings the anguish of love and war to vivid life, and leaves the reader's mind pulsating with images that are graphic and unforgettable.

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Review:

Readers who are entranced by the sweeping Anglo sagas of Masterpiece Theatre will devour Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks's historical drama. A bestseller in England, there's even a little high-toned erotica thrown into the mix to convince the doubtful. The book's hero, a 20-year-old Englishman named Stephen Wraysford, finds his true love on a trip to Amiens in 1910. Unfortunately, she's already married, the wife of a wealthy textile baron. Wrayford convinces her to leave a life of passionless comfort to be at his side, but things do not turn out according to plan. Wraysford is haunted by this doomed affair and carries it with him into the trenches of World War I. Birdsong derives most of its power from its descriptions of mud and blood, and Wraysford's attempt to retain a scrap of humanity while surrounded by it. There is a simultaneous description of his present-day granddaughter's quest to read his diaries, which is designed to give some sense of perspective; this device is only somewhat successful. Nevertheless, Birdsong is an unflinching war story that is bookended by romances and a rewarding read.

From the Publisher:

Birdsong was voted one of the best books of the century in a poll conducted by Waterstone's booksellers and Channel Four TV in the United Kingdom. Here's a selection of the praise that has been pouring in:

"Birdsong moved me more profoundly than anything I've read in years ... A deeply compassionate, utterly thrilling work by a master of the form."
-- Frank Conroy

"The accounts of combat are among the finest I have ever read ... so powerful as to be almost unbearable ... a tribute to the author's remarkable skill and tact and dazzling virtuosity."
-- Los Angeles Times

"An amazing book ... among the most stirringly erotic I have read."
-- The Daily Mail (London)

"Magnificent -- gorgeously written, deeply moving, rich in detail."
-- The Times (London)

"Superb storytelling and craftsmanship ... a tribute to the durability of the human soul."
-- People

"Vividly imagined ... this strenuous and poignant effort to shore up memory deserves our gratitude."
-- Newsday

"Superb ... a genuinely cathartic description of the war's last days."
-- New York Times Book Review

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