The title of this novel is the first thing that caught my attention when my husband Norm suggested I read it. Love and war: Two contrary notions juxtaposed on the cover gave me pause. How can they exist simultaneously in the same time and place? It seems impossible, but it’s not. Birds will greet the new day with song in spite of human slaughter. Neither birdsong nor carnage will cease until time stops. So, the story revolves around both the atrocity of war and the flourishing of love in spite of humanity itself. It’s a story of the search for thoughts and experiences that have been lost, and the quest for understanding, not of war, for who can fully comprehend such a thing? It is, rather, a descendant’s search to comprehend the enormous experiences of her forefather and how they shaped him. It is his life as a man, a soldier, a lover that she seeks.
The language and style in which the story is written are what makes this story a page-turner, a keeper. I learned much about World War I, the vernacular of the war, the raiment, and the life of an ordinary person. This ordinary man, Stephen Wraysford, wanted to survive this incessant war because his life was the only thing that had not been taken from him; it was all that remained of his pre-war self. He returned to battle even after being offered a desk job out of harm’s way. He refused security and continued his job on the battlefield to honor those who had died, not those at home in Britain whose daily lives still lingered on the banal.
Birdsong sheds light on the violence of this world. On the contrary, it opens one up to the possibility of renewal of love and life and beauty in spite of random or intentional horror.
I love quotations, and there are boundless words to repeat – they could become aphorisms in our language such as those of Benjamin Franklin, only with a darker twist. Here is one of my favorites, to give you a bite of Stephen’s wisdom:
“Time is the only silencer.”
Chew on that.