Group Read, February 2014: Birdsong

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Group Read, February 2014: Birdsong

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1puckers
Jan 31, 2014, 3:25 pm

With 2014 being the centenary of the start of WW1, it is perhaps appropriate that we have at least one Group Read dealing with this conflict. I've heard lots of good things about this book so look forward to joining you all shortly.

2japaul22
Jan 31, 2014, 7:42 pm

I started this a little early and I've ended up reading it pretty quickly. I will probably finish in the next couple days. I won't give anything away right now, but I've really enjoyed it so far though the subject matter is obviously pretty grim.

3amaryann21
Fev 3, 2014, 2:03 pm

I finished it last month, thinking it would take me longer than it did. I ended up really liking it! I'm looking forward to seeing how others feel about it.

4arukiyomi
Fev 4, 2014, 9:40 am

http://johnandsheena.co.uk/books/?p=3444

my review from a couple of years back (wow... freaky... I just checked the date and it's EXACTLY 2 years ago to the day)

You'll see that I think Faulks could have done better overall.

5amerynth
Fev 4, 2014, 3:59 pm

Just picked up a copy from the library, so I'll be starting on this one shortly.

6Tess_W
Fev 5, 2014, 6:04 am

Have already read, snoooooooooooze.

7ALWINN
Fev 6, 2014, 10:37 am

I started this one last night and Im loving it so far. Cant wait to see what others will be saying about it.

8puckers
Fev 7, 2014, 5:23 am

Finished the book this evening

WARNING - SPOILERS AHEAD

This is certainly an ambitious novel, combining a number of genres (romance, military, historical detective, and a hint of "chick lit") and stories three generations apart. Sometimes the ambition overwhelms the story and there are aspects that seem to be rushed. I particularly found the ending a bit heavy handed - the rescue of Stephen by a German soldier who happens to be Jewish, the family secrets that come out after 40 years and the "home delivery". However I thought the military parts were quite gripping and there were parts that were particularly moving - the letters written by soldiers prior to the first day on the Somme, the conversation in the tunnel between Stephen and Jack.

Overall the book worked for me - 3.5/5

9japaul22
Fev 7, 2014, 8:16 am

MORE SPOILERS!

I agree that the end was a bit heavy-handed, but I liked that Faulks set up the idea of the coming Holocaust in my mind without actually saying it. As I read about Stephen being saved by a German Jew fighting in WWI, I found myself thinking how different life would be for this person in just a couple of decades. In that respect, I thought it was a good touch.

One of the main themes I'm still thinking about is love. I thought that the first section of the book set up the traditional idea of passionate love and then the war chapters contrasted that love with the love that soldiers feel for each other in horrible circumstances. These men knew little about each other and many had the coping mechanism of never getting truly close to each other, and yet they were bound by experience that in a certain way made them more connected than Isabelle and Stephen ever were. I thought it was an interesting thing to reflect on.

I didn't particularly like the modern day sections. Although they provided a break from the tragedy of war, I thought it was pretty unnecessary and I found Elizabeth extremely annoying.

Overall the strengths of the book more than made up for its weaknesses.

I am curious now to read the Regeneration trilogy as everyone who I know who has read both says its far superior.

10amaryann21
Fev 7, 2014, 11:11 am

One thing I held in the back of my mind the whole book was the title and how it fit into the story. It was subtle, but definitely present. At key moments, Faulks brought in the songs of the birds nearby, or their distinct lack of song.

11puckers
Fev 7, 2014, 1:33 pm

#9. The Regeneration Trilogy does complement this book nicely, dealing with the coping mechanisms of the soldiers and the psychological impact of these mechanisms.

A sentence in Faulks struck me as thought-provoking: "It was not the tens of thousands of deaths that mattered; it was the way they had proved that they could be human yet act in a way that was beyond nature".

I agree that the Elizabeth story was unnecessary and I found it a bit jarring - a touch of Bridget Jones in the middle of the horrors of the Somme.

12Deern
Editado: Fev 10, 2014, 7:58 am

I know I am quite alone with this, I didn't much like the book. I still rated with 3 stars, because I believe in the good intention and I always like to see that an author of historical fiction did some research. I agree on everything that has been called "heavy-handed" before, found the ending almost unbearable (if the book hadn't ended there I would have abandoned it) and while the German Jew was a nice idea it was just another example of wanting too much, stuffing in too much. This happens with most modern books looking back on war events. We know so much, we have all the historical context, then everything has to be mentioned. The books lose focus and thus lose their strength.

The interesting part of the Elizabeth story (the research) was neglected, her love life got too much room. The strongest parts were the war scenes and the home holiday imo. In those good moments it was like an English take on All Quiet On The Western Front, but there was just too much unnecessary extra drama around it. The love to the young soldiers was believable, the love story of part 1 (again, for me!) was not.
Anyway, I am glad I read it.

(For those interested: Arnold Zweig's listed book the case of sergeant grischa, published I think in 1927, so pre-nazi time, gives some room to German Jewish soldiers in WWI and also to the repressed Jewish community life in Eastern Europe. The writing style is not easy to take, too flowery, but in this respect the book was quite informative. When I realized Zweig had written all that in the 1920s it really shocked me. He just innocently described a world he witnessed, a world that interested him (German Jewish soldier himself in WWI) in contrast to his own seemingly established life in the German military, a world he couldn't know would soon be gone forever. )

13ALWINN
Fev 12, 2014, 10:04 am

Having read All Quiet On the Western Front and now Birdsong both reading the war scenes just had me saying My God My God so many times. Living under those conditions makes me every more Thankful for my small comforts in life.

14amerynth
Fev 16, 2014, 10:17 am

Just finished Birdsong today. Like some of the other posters here, I enjoyed the book. I liked the characters and the overall story. I thought Faulks had lots of trouble with pacing the story properly but I was able to overlook that mostly.

The parts about World War I were the most compelling for me but I didn't find them as moving as All Quiet on the Western Front, which was marvelous (and a fairly recent read for me.)

Glad this was a group read, though, it wasn't at all on my radar.

15sjmccreary
Abr 25, 2014, 6:37 pm

Finally catching up on books sitting around here for weeks. I finished this book yesterday, after having started it late in January. I thought it was slow going for the first half or more. The romance in the beginning wasn't very interesting, and neither was Elizabeth's story. The war scenes were definitely the best part of the book, and the reading picked up once I finally reached that point. I very nearly gave up on the book without picking it back up, but am glad in the end that I came back and finished it.

I read Charlotte Gray last year, and first heard of this book in connection to that one. Now I'm looking forward to The Girl at the Lion d'Or to complete the trilogy - backwards.

16Yells
Abr 25, 2014, 8:36 pm

It is a trilogy but they are so loosely related that you can read them in any order.