Monday, July 22, 2013

The Yellow Birds

Author: Kevin Powers
Goodreads Rating: 3.79
Pages: 226

"The war tried to kill us in the spring," begins this breathtaking account of friendship and loss. In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city. In the endless days that follow, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that press in on every side: the insurgents, physical fatigue, and the mental stress that comes from constant danger.
Bound together since basic training when their tough-as-nails Sergeant ordered Bartle to watch over Murphy, the two have been dropped into a war neither is prepared for. As reality begins to blur into a hazy nightmare, Murphy becomes increasingly unmoored from the world around him and Bartle takes impossible actions.
With profound emotional insight, especially into the effects of a hidden war on mothers and families at home, THE YELLOW BIRDS is a groundbreaking novel about the costs of war that is destined to become a classic.

This book was beautiful. From the first page I could tell that the prose was going to lull me into a sense of peace, despite the war torn setting. Powers’ definitely succeeds in easing readers into the novel from the first sentence: ‘The War tried to kill us in the spring,” but after that, readers are left with a heart-wrenching account of two young soldiers trying to survive. I felt a kinship with Bartle throughout the book. I wanted to understand him a bit more than I did, however. I feel like even though we had access to a lot of his interior thoughts and feelings, he was still far away. This could have been a result of the way Powers’ set up the POV as Bartle looking back at the war. I think because the book was such a quick read, that I missed a bit of the time changes. They were minute but the book often switched within sections. Bartle discusses things in the moment of the war and then changes to thinking about it from some point in the not-so-distant future. If I had any complaints about the book, it is that. Although, a concession has to be made when one thinks about the trauma Bartle suffered. PTSD isn’t mentioned at all in the book but it is clear that there is something similar going on. I thought that it was very subtle and brilliant of Powers’ to discuss it in observations. For this reason, my issues with the time changes can be forgiven.  

This book succeeded because of its realness. I found myself like an unwilling spectator to a car crash-oddly cemented in my spot as a witness. I couldn’t help but read about the explosions from the incoming mortars and the disaster they left behind. I was on the edge of my seat, trying to get through each page and almost holding my breath. I knew it was fiction but yet the trauma and experiences seemed so real. I wanted to reach out to Bartle and Murph, wrap warm blankets around them and shelter them from what hundreds of soldiers have experienced. I think this book should be required because it’s so real. If the zeitgeist of our time is war stories, whether contemporary or dystopian, personal or societal, than this book speaks to that.

The language and writing was also masterful. I often found myself rereading sentences that were so beautiful. Words that were strewn together with such precision. Powers’ is masterful. I understand where the hype for this came from. A few such passages:

“My missing him became a grave that could not be filled or leveled, just a faded blemish in a filed and a damn poor substitute for grief, as graves so often are.”

“The dominoes of moments, lined up symmetrically, then tumbling backward against the hazy and unsure push of cause, showed only that a fall is every object’s destiny. It is not enough to say what happened. Everything happened. Everything fell.”

I can’t go into detail about these passages because I really dislike reviews that spoil too much, but just know that every sentence depicts the emotion and thought process that these two young soldiers experience. Everything they go through is reflected so well in the writing. I recommend this book not only for people who like war stories but also for anyone who appreciates great writing. It’s a very quick read and you won’t be sorry to pick it up.
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