I recently started reading “Birds Without Wings” by Louis de Bernières after a stint of fantasy novels which I’m embarrassed to even mention, but do so anyway just for the contrast, so that you understand how good it feels to come back to such exquisite writing. After this fantasy stint I was feeling desperate to read poetic prose to pull me back into my little sentimental world that books like “Written on the Body” and “Unbearable Lightness of Being” have created. I found “Birds Without Wings” because I loved “Corelli’s Mandolin,” which was written by the same author and was the perfect combination of history and fiction, poetry and prose. I picked up this book and immediately fell in love, so I include some of my favorite passages so far, and recommend this book to you if you agree with my taste in the writings that I’ve posted in this blog.
“But it was more than a question of hair and skin and eyes, because what one saw was more than just her beauty. You see, my father, drunkard though he was, was right when he said that she reminded you of death. When you looked at Philothei, you were reminded of a terrible truth, which is that everything decays away and is lost. Beauty is precious, you see, and the more beautiful something is, the more precious it is; and the more precious something is, the more it hurts us that it will fade away; and the more we are hurt by beauty, the more we love the world; and the more we love it, the more we are saddened that it is like finely powdered salt that runs away through the fingers, or is puffed away by the wind, or is washed away by the rain. You see, I am ugly. I have always been ugly. If I had died in my youth no one would have said, “Look how much poorer is the world,” but to be entranced by Philothei was to receive a lesson in fate.”
also there’s this:
“I am an old woman now. I am old and useless. I’ve pondered these things all my life. My flesh is not what it was, and neither are my bones. When I was young my soul seemed to be the same thing as my body. There didn’t seem to be any difference, I remember that. When I needed to climb some steps, my legs just climbed, and that was all there was to it. My mind and my muscles were all one. Now when I want to climb some steps I look down at my feet and I say, “Move, in the names of St. Gerasimos, move!” and slowly they move, and then I stop to draw breath, and my lungs feel hard and dry, and I feel my heart fluttering in vain like the last poor starving butterfly, and this is how I have come to know in my own way that there is a soul who is not the body, but lives inside it. “