'Masterpiece Theater' recently broadcast the adaptation of this novel......
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"Birdsong" is a 1993 war novel by English author Sebastian Faulks. Faulks' fourth novel, it tells of a man called Stephen Wraysford at different stages of his life both before and during World War I. "Birdsong" is part of a trilogy of novels by Sebastian Faulks which includes "The Girl at the Lion d'Or" and "Charlotte Gray" which are all linked through location, history and several minor characters.
The protagonist of the novel, Stephen goes to Amiens in France to learn more about the manufacturing process at René Azaire's factory. He becomes attracted to Azaire's wife, Isabelle. One night he hears Azaire beat Isabelle and is determined to make her see that true love exists elsewhere. Stephen and Isabelle embark upon a passionate affair which culminates in their leaving Azaire's house together. Stephen is abandoned by Isabelle once she learns that she is carrying his child.
Our next encounter with Stephen occurs when he is an officer in the British Army during the War. Stephen is not a popular officer, seemingly because he does not love his men enough. It is said of him that he "blows hot and cold."
As the war develops, so too do the intricacies of Stephen's personality. He develops a kind of love for the men under his command, refusing the offer of leave or a staff job, preferring instead to remain at the front with his men. At one point, he is badly wounded and is left for dead, thrown naked onto a pile of corpses behind the trenches, only to come stumbling, frenzied and delirious, into the arms of Jack Firebrace. He becomes known as a lucky charm, having survived where many others fell on numerous occasions.
Stephen develops a close friendship with Jeanne, depending on her letters while he is at the front. She keeps him going, though he is reluctant to admit this to her.
When forced to take a staff job for six months, Stephen becomes increasingly despondent. He feels guilty that he has survived while so many others have died needlessly, and feels the war is likely to continue although it has seemed to serve no purpose thus far. He is continually amazed at the sheer determination and courage of his men, dumbstruck by how much they will endure. He confides in Jeanne who urges him to persevere.
On his return to the front, Stephen becomes trapped in an underground tunnel with Jack Firebrace. He helps to free Jack, whose legs and ribs are broken, from the earth, and for six days endures the horrendous conditions while he endeavours to free both himself and a delirious Jack. Close to death due to thirst and starvation, he manages to blow a hole in the earth and is rescued by three German soldiers, not before promising the dying Jack that he will have children for him.
Stephen marries Jeanne Fourmentier in 1919. He does not speak for two years after the war, however one day he announces that they will go to London later that day in order to go to the theatre. Stephen dies at the age of forty-eight, never having fully got over that which he experienced during the war.