“book club book, very short”Kathie D wrote this review Thursday, July 18, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“This was a powerful and intense story of the war in Iraq. Powers has some vivid description and imagery of both the landscape and the emotions and situations of war. Some of the writing can get a bit lost, but the power of the scenes and realities the soldiers confront balance out those sections. ”Willa S wrote this review Wednesday, July 17, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Did not like this book. Did not believe the Sargent would have killed himself.... ”LC wrote this review Wednesday, July 10, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Wow.”Leslie wrote this review Sunday, June 30, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“I had this one for a while but wanted to wait until my son came back from his tour of duty in Afghanistan. A very powerful book in many ways. While I know my son did a different job out there it was still hard and heavy reading. It doens't glamorise war, it shows it in all of its blood, pain and heartache. it shows how war changes people. I saw some of those same changes in my own son when he came back. This book should be made mandatory reading in high school. This one hit me hard.”chris n wrote this review Friday, June 28, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“I've put off writing this review for a few days now while I mulled the book over because something in it just didn't work for me. And this, indeed, is a conundrum, because this novel should have been tailor-made for me. Generally speaking, I'm a fan of contemporary war novels. I don't enjoy them as escapist entertainment; I take them seriously and I respect them because I want to learn, I want to listen, I want to know what it's like to go to war without actually having to go to war. In some ways, I see it as a duty. If we're going to ask young men and women to fight and die for our country, to risk physical and emotional maiming, we sure as hell need to know precisely what it is we ask of them and honor their service by asking them only to fight when absolutely necessary. Sadly, this hasn't always been our country's policy.
And so I read The Yellow Birds, a novel that is haunting, lyrical, and radiates the pain of taking part in and being witness to slaughter. Written by Kevin Powers (himself an Iraq War veteran), the novel is told using first person point of view, giving our main character, John Bartle, his own voice. In chapters that alternate between his service in Iraq and his painful return home, Bartle internally explores his own guilt and emotional agony over the brutal and inexplicable loss of his friend, Murphy, and the role he himself may have played in the incident.
The fragmented, non-linear structure and sometimes broken, redundant syntax are clearly meant to reflect a narrator whose sense of self has been shattered and, in sifting through the pieces, he is exploring his culpability and who he is meant to be after the war is over. There are some poetic lines and descriptions that are emotionally piercing in their perfection.
All of this should have been right up my alley and yet, for most of the novel, I was strangely unaffected by the account. I had an academic appreciation for what he was trying to achieve and a profound respect for his own service and his attempt to capture the experience, but still felt emotionally distant from the work. In part, I think it is because John Bartle's conflict is so internalized that it's difficult to connect because he keeps everyone at a distance after the death of Murphy. I also think that, if we had the scene of Murphy's death earlier in the narrative (Murphy's death is mentioned continuously throughout, but the circumstances are not revealed until the very end), it might have better framed exactly what John is grappling with for the first 3/4 of the novel. However, I think the main factor is this: to date, I have read no finer depictions of the war experience than those found in the works Tim O'Brien.
Now, that may not be fair to compare Powers to O'Brien, but I couldn't help it. Powers's writing takes several pages from the Tim O'Brien playbook. And I'm not saying Powers does this intentionally, but O'Brien's influence on war narratives is so profound that it has simply become one of the primary sources for how we write about and read about war. Fragmented narrative? Check. Shifting, alternating point of view? Check. Soldier goes AWOL? Check. Soldier returns home unable to re-assimilate into society? Check. Poetic, sometimes esoteric language incongruously used to depict the most horrific, base acts of war? Check. Rambling or broken syntax to depict the soldier's mindset? Check.
There were so many similarities that, every time I found one, I couldn't help but think, "Tim O'Brien does that better." And O'Brien allows us to emotionally connect with his characters in a way that Powers never quite achieved for me. I felt sympathy, but not empathy.
I'm keeping the book because I think a re-read in the future might change my perspective. Despite not being in love with the book, I do admire Powers for what he's done here and certainly respect his service to our country. Any novel that shows people the real cost of war is certainly worth the read.
“In time this book will be viewed as a classic alongside, in my opinion, Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse and Mailer's Naked and the Dead. An astonishing book...”Rock wrote this review Tuesday, June 18, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“A hard read, with no happy endings. A graphic reminder that in war there really is no winner.”Suze C wrote this review Wednesday, June 12, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“What an emotional and powerful read this was! This will become 'The Red Badge of Courage' of our children's generation.”Bianca wrote this review Monday, June 10, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“BooknBlues said: 5 stars
The Yellow Birds swoop down and capture you in the first lines 'The war tried to kill us in the spring. As grass greened the plains of Nineveh and the weather warmed, we patrolled the low-slung hills beyond the cities and towns." And they never let go. I loved Kevin Powers voice and style in this story of the Iraq war. It seems brutal and honest and tears your heart out.
Murphy and Bartle become best buds in boot camp and upon meeting Murphy's mother Bartle promises her that he will bring her son back. There are some promises in life which should never be made. This is a profound story of friendship made by war and how innocence and youth fare under its stresses. It shifts back and forth between past and present and all the time with Powers prose:
"I disowned the waters of my youth. My memories of them became a useless luxury, their names as foreign as any that could be found in Neneveh: The Tigris or the Chesapeake, The James or the Shatt al Arab farther to the south, all belonged to someone else, and perhaps had never really been my own. I was an intruder, at best a visitor, and would be even in my home, in my misremembered history, until the glow of phosphorescence om tje Cjesa[eale O jad ;pmged tp swim inside again someday became a taunt against my insignificance, a cruel trick of light that always made me think of stars. No more I gave up longing, Be cause I was sure that anything seen at such a scale would reveal the universe as cast aside and drowned and if I ever floated there again, out where the level of the water reached my neck, and my feet lost contact with its muddy bottom, I might realize that to understand the world, one's place in it, is to be always at risk of drowning"
This is not an easy book to read, but when reading it one understands why it has received such high praise. I am hoping to read more from Kevin Powers in the future.”