Friday, January 12, 2007

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (1993), a WWI romance and historical novel, follows the story of Englishman Stephen Wraysford from his 1910 business trip to France through his harrowing service in the trenches during the war. In part one, Stephen falls in love with Isabelle, the wife of the business man he is boarding with. In part two the book becomes a war novel when Stephen is assigned to work with the tunnelers on the Western front in France. Part three introduces Stephen's granddaughter in 1978 London who has become interested in family history and her grandfather in particular. The books weaves these storylines together, but the war story is the backbone of the book and the best written.
Some of the online bookgroup that I read it with thought that the modern plot line was unconvincing, contrived and generally awkward or not essential to the plot. Most of the readers found that they didn't "care about" the characters. All felt that Faulks writes beautifully. Generally this was not a popular book with the book group, but I found it picked up considerably after about sixty pages and it moved quickly and pulled me as it went along. I also found the war scenes and facts, although disturbingly graphic, compelling and informative.
Readers who enjoy history, particulary military history, might consider reading this book and be willing to overlook the problems with the characterization and plot. I would recommend it with those reservations for individual readers, but perhaps not for a book group.
This PBS website about WWI is well done.
The catalog subject heading for WWI is: World War One, 1914-1918

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