My Personal Challenge – Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks

Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks


In 1910 a young Englishman, Stephen Wraysford, goes to Picardy, France, to learn the textile business. While there he plunges into a love affair with the young wife of his host, a passion so imperative and consuming that it changes him forever. Several years later, with the outbreak of World War I, he finds himself again in the fields of Picardy, this time as a soldier on the Western Front. A strange, occasionally bitter man, Stephen is possessed of an inexplicable will to survive. He struggles through the hideously bloody battles of the Marne, Verdun, and the Somme (in the last named, thirty thousand British soldiers were killed in the first half hour alone), camps for weeks at a time in the verminous trenches, and hunkers in underground tunnels as he watches many of the companions he has grown to love perish. In spite of everything, Stephen manages to find hope and meaning in the blasted world he inhabits.

Sixty years after war’s end, his granddaughter discovers, and keeps, Stephen’s promise to a dying man. Sebastian Faulks brings the anguish of love and war to vivid life, and leaves the reader’s mind pulsating with images that are graphic and unforgettable.
My Thoughts

Birdsong is a novel that really astounds the reader’s imagination. The detail and description made me feel like I was there, as though I was a part of every scene of the novel. I could visualize clearly everything that Stephen and Elizabeth were doing, seeing, and experiencing.

Stephen’s experiences really hit home for me. We begin the novel with Stephen exploring young adulthood, and the trials and tribulations that can come with it. From there, we’re thrown into the throws of war. The reading experience is incredibly rich. I’ve never read an account of the war as enticing as this. I was able to experience and feel everything that Stephen and his fellow soldiers were feeling. It’s heartbreaking, exhilarating, and panicking all at the same time.

As the novel navigates through time, we meet his grand-daughter – Elizabeth – as she tries to get a grip on her own personal history. A story unfolds of love, betrayal, and a dying promise. As Elizabeth begins to make sense of her history and her grand-father’s part of the war, we see Elizabeth struggle with similar feelings and experiences as Stephen once did. The parallelism is poetic in a sense, but for me it holds a deeper meaning. By researching her history, Elizabeth gains a deeper understanding of herself, which is something¬† I have personally encountered by researching my family history.

Birdsong is a beautiful tale of how two people can be brought closer together, despite a generational gap. Birdsong is also a classic tale of love and heartbreak, the struggle of adulthood, and the senseless effects of war.


~ by Aubrey Smith on August 11, 2012.

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