Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Read: "Birdsong" by Sebastian Faulks

Read: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, 1993, 067943545X.

Birdsong is different than most books I have been reading lately. This is an actual "literary" novel. Set in 1910, during World War One, and in 1978.

In 1910 Stephen Wainswright is sent by his English textile company employer to observe and learn at a provincial French textile factory. Stephen stays at the factory owner's home, falls for the owner's wife, the two run away, the lady gets pregnant and leaves Stephen. Stephen stays in France but enlists in the English army and joins the infantry. While in France he takes leave to the same factory town where he meets both the lady and her sister.

In 1978 Stephen's granddaughter deals with a married boyfriend, starts researching her grandfather and WW1, and gets knocked up by the boyfriend.

This was really well written. I was disappointed during the beginning of the novel. It took a while for the dude and gal to get involved and advance the story into the war setting.

The most interesting part of the novel was the tunneling done by engineers at the front. I had not read about that aspect of the war before. Stephen is promoted to Lieutenant and becomes close friends with an officer of engineers. The reader follows Stephen, the engineer, and an enlisted sapper down into the tunnels underneath German lines. Both the Germans and English are digging tunnels, setting mines, trying to either blow up the opposition, or digging into their tunnels to attack. Infantry from Stephen's platoon are detailed underground as security for the digging sappers.

The sappers work under nasty conditions in tight, enclosed tunnels. The closer they get to enemy lines the more dangerous the work becomes. The constant danger of cave-ins is matched by the threat of German soldiers digging to find them. Both sides set and blow mines in attack.

Between WW1 and WW2 the first war seems worse. In both wars troops would get rotated to the rear areas for a break. But, WW1 was such a meat grinder; whole companies and battalions would be destroyed in one day. In Sassoon's Memoirs of Infantry Officer all Sherston's friends but one end up dead. Same thing here, most everyone but Wainswright dies. I got used to, and started to like, characters and *bang* they were gone.

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