For those of you who missed yesterday’s blog, to cut a long story short my favourite author is Louis de Bernières (have a look here if you missed this one). As I mentioned yesterday, my favourite book by my favourite author is not in fact my favourite book of all time, the title of which will be revealed at the end of these 30 blogs. However, my favourite novel by Louis de Bernières comes down to choosing between what are unarguably his two best novels, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, and Birds Without Wings.
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, written in 1994, is set on the Greek Island of Cephallonia during the Italian and German occupation from World War Two. While it details the war itself, and some aspects of the political side to the war, essentially it is about the social side, and is a love story between Pelagia, the daughter of the local doctor, Dr Iannis, and Antonio Corelli, the captain of the occupying Italian force who despises the war, and loves music and life. As the story progresses we see the effects of the war on various levels, from the effect on the forces themselves to the towns, right down to the individuals who are all affected in different ways, and in many cases are also driven by love. It is stunning both in story but also in the style of writing, managing to balance the humorous with the tragic to produce a beautiful tale of love, loss and war. This book also won de Bernières the Commonwealth Writers Prize the following year.
Birds Without Wings, written in 2004, is the longest book written by de Bernières, with an epic story to match. Set in the fictional village of Eskibahçe in southwestern Anatolia (although based upon a real village in the area now in ruins), this story spans through World War One and the era of Turkish nationalism, and focuses upon this village where two cultures and religions have resided peacefully together for centuries, only to be ripped apart when war and revolution sweep through. While it is slow to build up, this helps the reader to really fall in love with the characters and town, only to watch their worlds and lives turned upside down, which makes it all the more heartbreaking. The story also focuses on the tragic love story of Philothei and Ibrahim, who, like other characters in the novel, become caught up in all the political events which they cannot control. Lastly, throughout the novel is a running story about the rise of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, “father of the Turkish nation”, which lends to the historical side of the novel quite well. While there are themes that cross over between this book and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, and even some characters that cross over (though at different ages, due to the two decades separating the stories), this book is much more ambitious in scale and in story, and encompasses a lot more, being told through various perspectives as the tale progresses.
So which one is my favourite? It is quite difficult to decide. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is by far the more famous and more successful of the two novels, and as I mentioned yesterday, is probably the novel you want to start with if you have never read any work by de Bernières. It is beautiful, and unforgettable. And yet, when I read Birds Without Wings it just moved me that little bit more, it toiled with my emotions more, and had me hooked – I read the second half of the book in a single sitting because I just couldn’t stop. And so, at the end of the day, it is Birds Without Wings that I would consider my favourite book by my favourite author, although both novels I have mentioned here are fantastic.
What’s your favourite novel by your favourite author? Is it the same as your favourite novel of all time?