Sebastian Faulks - Birdsong
I've probably read this book 3 times at least now, and still it staggers me with its beauty, and yet when I say that to people and they then say,
"what's it about?"
and I have to say that it's about the First World War, specifically the grim life in the trenches, understandably people do a double take.
I think I read this for the first time with my book group in the UK and I found it so incredible that I have since read anything and everything that Faulks has written (most of it good, but none of it has had such an impact on me as Birdsong) I also recommend it to everyone, I even got my husband to read it for heavens sake (and his reading matter of choice is either some work related business bore or Top Gear/Stuff magazine).
I've just reread Birdsong for bookgroup because that particular bookgroup meeting occured on November 12th, the day after Remembrance Day and it seemed an appropriate choice.
The story starts before the war in 1910, our hero Stephen is in France on business, he falls in love with a married woman and they run away together, leaving chaos in their wake. It doesn't work out and Stephen is forever haunted by this love. The story is mostly about Stephen and other soldiers in the trenches, the futility of war, detailing the minutiae of their lives - how the tea tastes of the petrol that had originally been in the cans it's been brewed in, how the dormant lice within the seams of their clothes can never be completely removed, the lies that the officers have to tell their foot soldiers, denying to themselves the certain death they are being sent to and the sheer infinite number of men, young and old who died and yet were never found.
There is another storyline running also, as the young(ish) grand-daughter of Stephen decides she wants to know more about the Grandfather she never knew, at one point she visits the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing and is shocked by the seemingly endless number of names inscribed on the monument,
"Nobody told me" she says, "My God, nobody told me".
That line is probably one of the reasons I keep coming back to this book, to remember, and also why I will keep on recommending it to people who haven't read it (even recommended it to a German friend last week, found the link on Amazon.de for the book in German and emailed it to her) I have toured around Brittany and visited areas where trenches have been preserved and where land is still fenced off due to the possibility of unexploded bullets and seen the memorial at Bayeux, at sunset, when the light turns everything blood red, we should never be allowed to forget the extreme lengths to which man will push himself, never forget.
If you haven't read it, do, please.