Birds without Wings by Louis Bernieres.
A dense, mesmerising, harrowing and yet humorous novel that will bring out all emotions that a reader can experience but did not think possible in one story.
Set in the peaceful fictional village of Eskibahce in south west Turkey and home to Turkish Muslims and Greek Christians who have lived for centuries side by side and tolerate and enjoy for the most parts each other's traditions and religions. The author introduces us to a village of characters and when the war is declared and the outside world intruded the twin scourges of religion and nationalism lead to forced marches and massacres and the peaceful fabric of life is destroyed. Birds without wings is a personal and political story showing the costs of war. "Where does it all begin? History has no beginnings, for everything that happens becomes the cause of pretext for what occurs afterwards, and this chain of cause and pretext stretches back to the Palaeolithic age, when the first Cain of one tribe murdered the first Cain of Another".
The story is based on a small fictional village in south-western Coastal Anatolia called Eskibahce, although fictional I believe the village is actually based upon Kayakoy a village near Fethiye the ruins which still exist today. Once a thriving Greek Village this town of over one thousand houses two churches, fourteen chapels and two schools was completely deserted in 1923 when the Greek inhabitants living throughout Turkey were deported to Greece by the Government in an exchange policy.
The destruction of the Ottoman empire in the First World War and its aftermath put and end to a beautiful tradition of religious and ethnic tolerance and the descriptions depicted by the author of the atrocities inflicted on women and children in this novel are very harrowing(one in particular will never leave my mind) but while it was difficult reading in places I only had to read about it............thousands of woman and children had to endure it. There is also wonderful humour though out the story and some laugh out loud moments that read like a breath of fresh air.
The writing, the characters, the setting and the history is all impeccably crafted. I did however have a hard time getting into the novel as I found the first 100 pages hard going and only for a friend had warned me about this I could easily have put this book aside and missed out on a wonderful read. I think the novel at 625 pages was quite a long read and perhaps could have been shortened as some of the chapters are overwritten and very descriptive. That aside I loved and enjoyed the novel very much and I would recommend this for lovers of history.