The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End, 1917-1923
London, Allen Lane, 2016, ISBN: 9780374282455; 464pp.; Price: £19.99
University of St Andrews
Alex Burkhardt, review of The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End, 1917-1923, (review no. 2045)
One of the most memorable and unsettling works of historical fiction to appear in the last 15 years is Louis de Bernières’ Birds without Wings, which tells the stories of the inhabitants of Eskibahçe, a fictional village in the Ottoman Empire, in the years before, during and after the First World War. At times, the book makes for harrowing reading, especially the chapters that deal with the experiences of those called up to fight at the front during the Gallipoli campaign. However, though de Bernières’ account of bloody slaughter in trenches on the Dardanelles is moving and appalling, it pales in comparison to those parts of the book which treat the post-war period, when Greek forces invaded Turkey aiming to create a neo-Byzantine empire in the heartlands of the Ottoman Empire. The chapters that deal with Gallipoli describe a conflict which, however horrifying, pitted soldiers against soldiers; but these later chapters depict an apocalyptic landscape in which Greek and Turkish regular and irregular troops slaughtered each other and civilians in their barracks, places of work and homes, often in the most graphic and barbaric fashion imaginable. Indeed, after reading de Bernières’ book, it is this gruesome and distressing account of the bloodshed that occurred after the guns on the Western Front had fallen silent that remains with the reader.
The rest is available at https://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/2045