BIRDS WITHOUT WINGS
It's been nearly a decade since Captain Corelli's Mandolin became a word-of-mouth bestseller (and then a major feature film), and devotees will eagerly dig into de Bernières' sweeping historical follow-up. This time the setting is the small Anatolian town of Eskibahçe, in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. The large cast of characters of intermixed Turkish, Greek and Armenian descent includes breathtakingly lovely Philothei, a Christian girl, and her beloved Ibrahim, the childhood friend and Muslim to whom she is betrothed. The narrative immediately sets up Philothei's death and Ibrahim's madness as the focal tragedy caused by the sweep of history—but this is a bit of a red herring. Various first-person voices alternate in brief chapters with an authorial perspective that details the interactions of the town's residents as the region is torn apart by war; a parallel set of chapters follows the life of Kemal Atatürk, who established Turkey as a modern, secular country. The necessary historical information can be tedious, and stilted prose renders some key characters (like Philothei) one-dimensional. But when de Bernières relaxes his grip on the grand sweep of history—as he does with the lively and affecting anecdotes involving the Muslim landlord Rustem Bey and his wife and mistress—the results resonate with the very personal consequences that large-scale change can effect. Though some readers may balk at the novel's sheer heft, the reward is an effective and moving portrayal of a way of life—and lives—that might, if not for Bernières's careful exposition and imagination, be lost to memory forever. Agent, Lavinia Trevor. (Aug.)
Forecast: Corelli had the advantage of WWII, a prominent love story and a movie tie-in; this book's period and setting are less familiar. Still, readers who enjoyed Corelli will be likely to give it a chance. 10-city author tour.