Bernieres’s Asia Minor

ANKARA (Reuters) – Best-selling novelist Louis de Bernieres received only one negative letter in feedback to his epic tale «Birds Without Wings,» which chronicles the demise of the Ottoman Empire, despite broaching sensitive historic themes. De Bernieres, perhaps best known for «Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,» also said in an interview he felt the Ottoman Empire, governed from Istanbul and spanning three continents in its heyday, might have something to teach our modern world. «I got just one critical letter to ‘Birds Without Wings,’ from an Armenian… The reaction in Turkey and in Greece has been very positive,» he told Reuters late on Tuesday. The novel recreates the life of Turkish Muslims and Greek Christians in the village of Eskibahce in southwest Turkey from 1900 to the 1920s. The momentous events of the period increasingly intrude on the village and its colorful inhabitants, destroying both the close-knit community and the empire itself. De Bernieres, born in London in 1954, weaves into his novel the story of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the modern Turkish Republic in 1923. The novel, which has been translated into dozens of languages, includes such politically sensitive issues as the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915 and the invasion of Turkey by Greek, British and French armies culminating in their final defeat by Ataturk’s forces. De Bernieres, whose grandfather fought at Gallipoli, spoke fondly of the old Ottoman spirit of tolerance which fell victim to the new force of nationalism, both Greek and Turkish. «I don’t feel the Ottoman Empire was an embarrassing failure, the ‘sick man of Europe.’ As a multicultural, multiethnic experiment, it was a success for a very long time. It finally fell because of romantic nationalism,» he said. «It shows there was a time when it was possible for different races and religions to live side by side in peace.» His novel, set to be made into a film, portrays a world in which Muslim women pray to Allah but ask their Christian neighbors to intercede for them with the Virgin Mary and where the local Muslim cleric blesses Christian children. But they are eventually torn apart in the great exchange of populations in the 1920s, in which millions of Greeks and Turks quit their ancestral homes in Turkey and Greece respectively as a new era of monoethnic nation-states dawned. «Many Greeks still see Anatolia (the bulk of Turkey in Asia) as a lost paradise. Many of them had flourished there, with good jobs. Many Turks feel the same way about homes they had to abandon in Greece… Everybody lost their paradise.»

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Enter your information below to receive our weekly newsletters with the latest insights, opinion pieces and current events straight to your inbox.

By signing up you are agreeing to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.