The Yellow Birds - Download Free Ebook Now
Hot Best Seller

The Yellow Birds

Availability: Ready to download

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. "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 eight 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. "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 a groundbreaking novel about the costs of war that is destined to become a classic.


Compare

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. "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 eight 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. "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 a groundbreaking novel about the costs of war that is destined to become a classic.

30 review for The Yellow Birds

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    "THE WAR TRIED to kill us in the spring. As green greened the plains of Nineveh and the weather warmed, we patrolled the low-slung hills beyond the cities and towns. We moved over them and through the tall grass on faith, kneading paths into he windswept growth like pioneers. While we slept, the war rubbed its thousand ribs against the ground in prayer. When we pressed onward through exhaustion, its eyes were white and open in the dark. While we ate, the war fasted, fed by its own deprivation. I "THE WAR TRIED to kill us in the spring. As green greened the plains of Nineveh and the weather warmed, we patrolled the low-slung hills beyond the cities and towns. We moved over them and through the tall grass on faith, kneading paths into he windswept growth like pioneers. While we slept, the war rubbed its thousand ribs against the ground in prayer. When we pressed onward through exhaustion, its eyes were white and open in the dark. While we ate, the war fasted, fed by its own deprivation. It made love and gave birth and spread through fire." I read this opening paragraph and then as I tend to do I read it out loud to my wife as she was making (I wrote fixing first, but then realized that was a nonsensical Kansas word.) supper. Her response was WOW! If you decide to read this book you will experience jaw dropping lyrical sentences describing the fear of combat, the futility of war, and the life that has to be rediscovered afterwards. Kevin Powers volunteered to join the army and served in Iraq from 2004-2005 as a machine gunner. He was in the Tal Afar and Mosul region (see map above showing the location of the events in the novel in the Northern part of the country),and that is also the same areas patrolled by Bartle, Sterling, and Murph in the novel. Machine Gun Operator in Iraq Powers then studied English at VCU and went on to get his MFA in poetry from the Michener Center for writers at the University of Texas. He is a poet and it shows in his prose. "When the mortars fell, the leaves and fruit and birds were frayed like ends of rope. They lay on the ground in scattered piles, torn feathers and leaves and the rinds of broken fruit intermingling. The sunlight fell absently through the spaces in the treetops, here and there glistening as if on water from smudges of bird blood and citrus." We see everything through the eyes of Private Bartle who is desensitized by the war, so spiritually removed from his day to day activity that without ingrained training I wonder if he could have functioned at all. Despite the fact that Bartle is shutting down, aging with each new horrific experience, he has these moments where he describes a scene so vividly, so wonderfully, that I actually felt my heart rate increase because words excite me. His war buddy is Murph and though he cares about Murph there is this distance between him and everyone as if all that he experiences is happening to someone else. Survival instinct or someone who has reached a limit of emotional response? Murph dies. Now that is not giving away the plot, because it is referenced early in the book. The book skips around between 2004 and 2005 in Iraq and also to the time when Bartle returns home. The glue that strings the plot together is the death of Murph, and how Bartle deals with the complicated aspects of that death and the aftermath. "Anyone can feel shame. I remember myself, sitting in the dirt under neglected and overgrown brush, afraid of nothing in the world more than having to show myself for what I had become. I wasn't really know around there anyway, but I had the feeling that if I encountered anyone they would intuit my disgrace and would judge me instantly. Nothing is more isolating than having a particular history. At least that is what I thought. Now I know: All pain is the same. Only the details are different." Mosul, Iraq Sergeant Sterling is the veteran of the group an ancient 24 year old that is trying his best to survive, but maybe not sure why he is trying so hard anymore. He is a volatile man, brutal and unpredictable. One of those guys that make you wonder if he can ever adjust to regular society again. “I hated the way he excelled in death and brutality and domination. But more than that, I hated the way he was necessary, how I needed him to jar me into action even when they were trying to kill me, how I felt like a coward until he screamed into my ear ‘Shoot these hajji f****s!’.” Murph is 18, signed up when he was 17, one of those statistics that made me wince every Sunday morning when I would tune into "This Week with George Stephanophoulos". At the end of the program they would always have an "In Memorium" segment that would list the deceased from Iraq and Afghanistan with their ages and where they were from. My wife and I would usually end up a little teary eyed every week as those names for a moment became very real for us. I used to have a Marine recruiter that lived across the street from me. I mentioned to him how devastating it was to see the names of these kids that were sitting in high school classrooms just months before they died overseas. He replied to me that they had realized the political ramifications of that and now were holding up deploying Marines to combat zones until they turned 19. He could have just been bullshitting me (He was a spin doctor patrolling the mall daily looking for kids with nothing to do.), as if 19 was so much better than 18, but I did notice that average ages of the deceased soldiers did spring up especially after Bush called up and deployed all those reservists. Soldiers Tal Afar "The world makes liars of us all." Obviously one cannot read a book like this without thinking about this war, the causes, the instigators, the liars, the waste, the shattered lives, and a secretary of defense demanding a country to go to war with that had hard targets. Afghanistan was a bit of disappointment to Rumsfeld in that regard. I don't want to detract from the accomplishments of Powers by spilling the vitriol of my own issues with this war. This book certainly had an impact on me. The two days that I spent reading passed in a fog. I was grumpy and a bit detached myself. My stomach felt tight and my thoughts were all weighted. This war reminds me too much of Vietnam. I had flash backs to that fine novel Matterhorn. When you fight a war, putting your life on the line you want an objective and with that objective you want to know what you need to do to win. We keep fighting these wars that we can't win. We kill people so somebody can put another chalk mark on a board, but those deaths never get us any closer to winning. Powers explains it for me. "I thought about my grandfather's war. How they had destinations and purpose. How the next day we'd march out under a sun hanging low over the plains in the east. We'd go back into a city that had fought this battle yearly,; a slow, bloody parade in fall to mark the change of season. We'd drive them out. We always had. We'd kill them. They'd shoot us and blow off our limbs and run into the hills and wadis, back into the alleys and dusty villages. Then they'd come back, and we'd start over by waving to them as they leaned against lampposts and unfurled green awnings while drinking tea in front of their shops." People are mentioning this fine young writer in the same breath as Tim O'Brien and Erich Maria Remarque. I won't disagree with them. I'm even thinking this won't end up being his best book. The promise he shows in this book has me excited about what he will do next. Highly recommended with a shot of bourbon and a beer chaser. If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com I also have a Facebook blogger page at: https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  2. 5 out of 5

    J.L. Sutton

    Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds is a powerful novel which centers on a soldier fighting in the Iraqi War and what awaits him when he returns to civilian life in Virginia. Powers’ opening lines—“The war tried to kill us in the spring”—exemplifies how difficult it is for soldiers to figure out where they fit into the dying going on around them. It wasn’t other soldiers or countries or their leaders or politicians, it was the war that tried to kill them. Thus begins a poetic and brutal account of ho Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds is a powerful novel which centers on a soldier fighting in the Iraqi War and what awaits him when he returns to civilian life in Virginia. Powers’ opening lines—“The war tried to kill us in the spring”—exemplifies how difficult it is for soldiers to figure out where they fit into the dying going on around them. It wasn’t other soldiers or countries or their leaders or politicians, it was the war that tried to kill them. Thus begins a poetic and brutal account of how war leaves all of us scarred. Fate is a central theme. Whether soldiers have any control of their fate comes down to whether they are individuals or numbers (according to the order in which they are/will be killed). The idea that they are a number detaches them from the horror and fear of the war around them. In effect, they are already dead. They might as well relax and wait for the bullet that is fated to kill them. They don’t want to believe this; however, they can’t fully believe that they are in control either. This sense of powerlessness is echoed in other war novels like Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front. The other novel which I kept thinking about while reading The Yellow Birds was Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony. Silko’s protagonist, Tayo, comes back from WWII and needs to be healed. Powers protagonist, Bartle, returns from the Iraq War in desperate need of healing; however, there is no ceremony to heal Bartle from a war which has alienated him from everything he knew. Aside, I met and introduced Kevin Powers at an author event in Wyoming in April. He talked about his transition from soldier to writer, why he wanted to recount his experience of the war in fiction and his approach to writing. He was super nice, great to meet him! I highly recommend The Yellow Birds. I believe Powers has a great career ahead of him!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    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 way 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. Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder

  4. 5 out of 5

    ``Laurie Henderson

    Let me tell you right now that this book is going to hurt. The suffering the Iraqi War veterans endure in this book will touch a raw spot in you that you might prefer not to experience. You will probably, like me, have a lump in your throat and teary eyes most of the time when reading this excellent first novel by Kevin Powers. 5 stars all around and I'm looking forward to reading all future books by Powers, a combat veteran of the Iraq war.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Richard Derus

    The Yellow Birds wins the 2012 Guardian First Book Award! Review can now be found at Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud! This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ken

    As a chaplain in a VA hospital, I don't meet many former warriors who consider themselves heroes, nor many who think that war is necessary. There is nothing romantic or beautiful about it. Some will speak broadly of their experience, but only a few will talk about its horror. And so I turn to literature to help me understand. I think of The Iliad, 1 and 2 Samuel, War and Peace, All Quiet on the Western Front, Blood Meridian, Catch 22, Slaughterhouse Five, and The Naked and the Dead. I add to the As a chaplain in a VA hospital, I don't meet many former warriors who consider themselves heroes, nor many who think that war is necessary. There is nothing romantic or beautiful about it. Some will speak broadly of their experience, but only a few will talk about its horror. And so I turn to literature to help me understand. I think of The Iliad, 1 and 2 Samuel, War and Peace, All Quiet on the Western Front, Blood Meridian, Catch 22, Slaughterhouse Five, and The Naked and the Dead. I add to the list, Kevin Powers' The Yellow Birds. I also bring to the hospital memories of growing up in the war zone of 1950's America, in the house of a former Marine who devoutly loved his wife and children and rarely spoke of what he had seen or done. The Yellow Birds describes the conflicted duties of a combat soldier. He is loyal to a disciplined, brutish sergeant and a care-taker for a combat buddy; but he can save neither of them. He returns to his mother's house in Virginia and the welcome embrace of the C.I.D -- the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command. Listening to the Veterans and reading their stories, I find myself pondering Achilles. He might have returned to his native Greece, his father's house and mother's homeland; but he preferred a hero's death in battle. The greatest warrior in all literature, the ultimate soldier could never be a civilian again. War had made him unfit for the company of women or children, incapable of dealing with subtlety, complexity or bureaucracy. What did he care if the living room walls were painted beige or blue after he had painted streets in blood? Could he ever tolerate the company of disagreeable persons when he had dismembered better men whom he frankly admired? Every time we send our youth off to another war we think they will come home unchanged and innocent, as if they've only gone off to explore the far side of the planet. But many of them will never feel at home again, no matter where they go or what they do. They will return to pass a kind of life on the edge of the wilderness, living in shacks and trailer homes in uninhabitable flood plains and wasted hill sides. They will live on "disability" with whatever chemicals an addicted society provides. They will not tell us of their guilt, grief or shame, and few will find solace in literature. The Yellow Birds ends with a note of muted hope, and I also hope for Mr Powers, that he and his brothers and sisters find healing in the arts and literature. Some, perhaps, will find healing in religion. I hope they will bring new zeal to the American experiment in democracy, and finally embrace the uncertainty and insecurity of our middle class nation. I hope they will teach the rest of us how to live with pain, physical, psychological and spiritual. Mr. Powers sees beauty and he often describes beauty in his writing: "An egret flew just over my shoulder and skimmed the water so close and I thought there was no way a body could be so close to the edge of a thing and stay there and be in control. But the tips of its wings skimmed along the water just the same. The egret didn't mind what I believed, and it tilted some and disappeared into the glare of the gone sun and it was full of grace." The Yellow Birds is, indeed, full of grace. I recommend it to anyone who has contemplated horror and beauty and found hope.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    The first lines of Kevin Powers The Yellow Birds announces that it intends to be a classic war novel, to be placed on the shelf somewhere between All Quiet on the Western Front and The Things They Carried: The war tried to kill us in the spring. As grass greened the plains of Nineveh and the weather warmed, we patrolled low-slung hills beyond the cities and towns. We moved over them and through the tall grass on faith, kneading paths into the windswept growth like pioneers. While we slept, the w The first lines of Kevin Powers The Yellow Birds announces that it intends to be a classic war novel, to be placed on the shelf somewhere between All Quiet on the Western Front and The Things They Carried: The war tried to kill us in the spring. As grass greened the plains of Nineveh and the weather warmed, we patrolled low-slung hills beyond the cities and towns. We moved over them and through the tall grass on faith, kneading paths into the windswept growth like pioneers. While we slept, the war rubbed its thousand ribs against the ground in prayer. The first couple pages are like this. Pungent and beautiful and filled with vivid scenery and metaphor. Its excellence is almost exhausting, and you wonder how Powers can sustain it. The short answer is that he cannot. In the end, for me at least, Powers obvious authorial talents cannot mask a rather hidebound plot and wafer-thin characters. It is a good book, but certainly not the timeless classic that is being peddled. The most pertinent and obvious thing to say about The Yellow Birds is that it is about the Iraq War, written by a veteran who served as a machine gunner in Mosul and Tal Afar. This is worth mentioning because that war is still a recent and polarizing event. Have an opinion, and you are likely to get a disproportionate response. At the very least, The Yellow Birds is interesting because it is on the vanguard of our literary grappling with the war. There are still novels published making sense of Vietnam; if that serves as any indication, there are countless permutations of the Iraq War-novel ahead of us. Powers’ vehicle for telling his story is as old as war: the platoon narrative. Young Private Bartle, the novel’s first person (and first person plural) narrator goes to war with younger Private Murphy, who Bartle has pledged to protect. They are watched over by tough-yet-caring-yet-deadly Sergeant Sterling, who seems to have walked in from every other war novel ever written. These three, along with the rest of the mostly nameless, faceless unit, is engaged in the battle of Al Tafar. (Complex characterizations are not on this novel’s mind). From the very beginning, we learn that Private Bartle is unable to save Private Murphy, who’s death is foretold but not explained. The gradually unfolding circumstances of Murphy’s death – along with the attendant consequences for Bartle and Sterling – serve as the novel’s animating mystery. This creates tension, of course, but also results in infuriatingly elliptical prose. (I have found myself growing more and more frustrated with authors who withhold information for no reason save a manufactured mystery. If you want to surprise me, don’t tell me Murphy dies in the first couple of pages. If you do tell me that Murphy dies, that’s fine, but your book needs to be more than vague allusions until the actual third act climax). To further facilitate the secrecy surrounding Murphy’s demise, Powers employs a fractured narrative structure. For example, the first three chapters occur, successively, in September 2004 (in Al Tafar, Iraq), flashes back to December 2003 (for basic training at Fort Dix), and then jumps forward to March 2005 (to Germany, where Bartle and Sterling stop en route to America). The structuring itself does not cause any confusion. This is not one of those literary works that attempts to elide time and space through overwrought, stream-of-conscious prose. (I recently read a book like that, and it irritated me. I’m processing my irritation right now, as you can see). Instead, each of these temporal shifts are clearly datelined. The jumbling of the chronology is meant to hide the ball with regards to the details of Murphy’s fate; I found it a useless adornment. (I know that fractured narratives are all the rage, but they’re becoming tiresome when they serve no deeper overarching purpose than to veil plot-points). Iraq, along with Vietnam, is America’s most controversial war. Thus, it’s not surprising that The Yellow Birds conveys a message. Powers chooses to focus on the disconnect between soldiers and civilians. In one memorable scene, a stateside Private Bartles refuses to let a “patriotic” bartender buy his drinks. Later, in a mirror twinning of the novel’s opening lines, Powers writes: Then it was spring again in all the spoiled cities of America. The dark thaw of winter fumbled toward its end and passed. I smelled it reeking through my window during that seventh April of the war… On the plane ride home, a cynical Bartle notes: The pilot made an announcement when all the passengers had taken their seats. Said how honored he was to be giving an American hero a ride home. Fuck it, I thought. I got four free Jack and Cokes out of the deal and a little extra legroom… As a critique, I found this lacking. It’s more an observation than a judgment. Of course there’s disconnect between soldiers and civilians. That has been true since Sumer and Elam first clashed in Mesopotamia. It’s clear to me – or at least it seemed to be – what Powers is hinting at with these scenes. However, he never finishes his thought. His book is apolitical. There are no real mentions of the machinations that brought America into Iraq. This is not necessarily necessary. But without that background, Powers’ scrutiny of the warrior/non-warrior chasm spins into obviousness. It begs further exploration. What is he trying to say about this gulf? Were Americans hypocrites for supporting a war they knew they wouldn’t have to fight personally? Do we need a draft to spread the risk? How do democracies decide on wars of choice verses wars of necessity? The narrative implicitly raises these questions but does not bother to grapple with them. All this is not to say that The Yellow Birds is not a good book. It is a good book. It is not a great book. This novel comes freighted with expectations. It was a National Book Award Finalist. It has the required comparisons to other acknowledged classics of the genre. I don’t think it’s demeaning to mention that it does not clear the high bar others have set for it. The prose alone makes this book worth a read. It is poetic and brilliant, and I could spend pages simply excerpting exceptional lines. You can open a page at random and read something gripping. There is a scene, for instance, where a mortar attack kills a medic on base. Bartle and Murphy carry her body: We walked her past a copse of alder and willow that bowed in the heat of the small fires burning nearby, their old branches lamenting her, laid out as she was on that makeshift litter. Our hands began to cramp with each passing step, each taken with whatever reverence we could muster, clutching at the edges of the boards. Thin splinters roughed the flats of our palms as we walked. Listing in concert with our deliberate footsteps, the gentle curves of her body swayed beneath her torn clothes. The boards creaked. A small number of boys out on a head count stopped and turned toward us. A pale review as her body ascended the gently sloping hill, fringed by the bleached and spotted patterns of their uniforms. We conducted her pall in earnest up the remainder of the hill. At the top, we lowered her to the ground and set her under a tree on the tied-together boards, her body now translucent and blue-tinted. One of the soldiers alerted the medics and we watched them as they came to her. Her friends grabbed her and enveloped her in hugs and kisses. She rolled absently in their loving arms and they cried out beneath the setting sun…The sun set like a clot of blood on the horizon. A small fire had spread from the crumbling chapel, igniting the copse of tamarisk trees. And all the little embers burned like lamps to light my way. For me, this wonderful prose – that nicely transitions between lofty description and dirty grunt-level detail – is wasted in servicing a utilitarian plot and thinly drawn characters. I craved more substance. The Yellow Birds will have its place in the firmament. Not in the all time pantheon of war novels, perhaps, but in the growing canon of fictional explorations of the Iraq War.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Marsha

    First off, I want to say that the problem with this book is probably with me. Many deeper, more thoughtful readers loved it, and I might have enjoyed it more if I was in the mood for a book I had to really concentrate on and think about, and if I had someone there to explain all the lyrical, beautifully written, but somewhat confusing prose. I had to keep rereading, but even now I am not sure of what happened or why in parts of the book. It is the story of a soldier serving in Iraq in 2004. He h First off, I want to say that the problem with this book is probably with me. Many deeper, more thoughtful readers loved it, and I might have enjoyed it more if I was in the mood for a book I had to really concentrate on and think about, and if I had someone there to explain all the lyrical, beautifully written, but somewhat confusing prose. I had to keep rereading, but even now I am not sure of what happened or why in parts of the book. It is the story of a soldier serving in Iraq in 2004. He has foolishly, and a bit flippantly, promised a mother to take care of her son, with whom he serves. It turns out that nobody can keep anyone safe. The consequences of that promise, along with the fear, isolation, and craziness of war, are what make up the story. The story itself, was secondary to the immediate environment and the inner muse of the main character. Maybe that is why the story was somewhat hard to follow, and a bit anti-climactic. Here is an example of the writing: "Clouds spread out over the Atlantic like soiled linens on an unmade bed. I knew, watching them, that if in any given moment a measurement could be made it would show how tentative was my mind's mastery over my heart. Such small arrangements make a life, and though it's hard to get close to saying what the heart is, it must at least be that which rushes to spill out of those parentheses which were the beginning and the end of my war: the old life disappearing into the dust that hung and hovered over Nineveh even before it could be recalled and longed for, young and unformed as it was, already broken by the time I reached the furthest working of my memory. I was going home. But home, too, was hard to get an image of, harder still to think beyond the last curved enclosure of the desert, where it seemed I had left the better portion of my self as one among innumerable grains of sand, how in the end the weather-beaten stone is not one stone but only that which has been weathered, a result, an example of slow erosion on a thing by wind or wave that break against it, so that the else of anyone involved ends up deposited like silt spilling out into an estuary, or gathered at the bottom of a river in a city that is all you can remember." See, beautifully written and lyrical, but I still am not quite sure what it means. I had a hard time knowing, understanding, or caring deeply about the characters because I never understood quite what was being said and the story was so jumpy and inconclusive. The author is a poet and served in Iraq as a machine gunner in 2004-2005. He is obviously a talented writer and knows his subject matter, I just needed the story to be a bit more clear. I really wanted to like it...

  9. 4 out of 5

    Fionnuala

    The Yellow Birds is a fictionalised account of a young American soldier’s experiences while on a tour of duty in Iraq in 2004. That this book has been published and is getting a wide readership is important because any and every account, in whatever medium, which underlines the absurdity of war is needed urgently until the sending out of young men to fight senseless wars becomes a thing of the past.    Powers was 17 when he joined the army and what I'd really like to have read is his diary from th The Yellow Birds is a fictionalised account of a young American soldier’s experiences while on a tour of duty in Iraq in 2004. That this book has been published and is getting a wide readership is important because any and every account, in whatever medium, which underlines the absurdity of war is needed urgently until the sending out of young men to fight senseless wars becomes a thing of the past.    Powers was 17 when he joined the army and what I'd really like to have read is his diary from that time or some other such personal account of his tour of duty. Soldiers managed to blog from Iraq in the early years and that first hand reporting was amazing. It wasn't trying to be literature, it was just about telling it as it happened.  However, since Powers was inspired to write a fictionalised account rather than an autobiographical one, I would have preferred it without the fragmented style; I just wanted him to tell his story straight instead of endlessly circling around it.  However, he uses some interesting images and the language was quite poetic at times but at other times there was a lack of rhythm that tripped me up. I found myself recalling other accounts of war which had grabbed me immediately and kept me fascinated and wondered what was that magic ingredient which had made them stand out. There were a couple of pages towards the end of this book which worked well for me, where I said, yes, finally, this is his true voice, and I was greatful for them. The other quibble I have is that any Iraqi point of view whatever is very much missing from Power's account. He has an Iraqi interpreter character, and speaks of buying food in local markets, but doesn't use those opportunities to give an insight into what it may have been like for the locals. For anyone interested, there was a blog by some women in Baghdad that is now available in book form: Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog From Iraq.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lawyer

    The Yellow Birds: Kevin Powers' Novel of Young Men at War Why the title, The Yellow Birds? Kevin Powers took it from a traditional marching cadence that's been around a long time. A yellow bird with a yellow bill was sitting on my window sill I lured him in with a piece of bread and then I smashed his f**king head. Yellow birds in step I can add little to what my friend Jeff Keeten has said about this powerful and terrible beauty of a book. While I read it first, and recommended it to him, you won't The Yellow Birds: Kevin Powers' Novel of Young Men at War Why the title, The Yellow Birds? Kevin Powers took it from a traditional marching cadence that's been around a long time. A yellow bird with a yellow bill was sitting on my window sill I lured him in with a piece of bread and then I smashed his f**king head. Yellow birds in step I can add little to what my friend Jeff Keeten has said about this powerful and terrible beauty of a book. While I read it first, and recommended it to him, you won't find a better review of it than his. http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... Kevin Powers Kevin Powers wrote from experience. After graduating from high school he joined the Army and was shipped to Iraq at the age of seventeen. He was a machine gunner in Mosul and Al Tafar. You know, two little towns that remained hot spots after President George W. appeared on an aircraft carrier replete with banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished." REALLY? Powers follows Private John Bartles, twenty-one, Private Daniel Murphy, eighteen, and their battle hardened Sergeant Sterling through Sterling's tough basic training and a brutal campaign in Al Tafar. Boots on the ground are worn by the young. Sterling is twenty-three. Bartles meets Daniel's mother upon their graduation from basic training. She asks him the impossible--to keep Daniel safe and bring him back alive. Bartles makes a promise he cannot keep. Sterling immediately knocks him to the ground warning him never to make such a promise when war is involved. In Al Tafar it is difficult to know who your enemies are. Bartles thinks about the kids to whom they throw candy today they may be fighting in a few years. God, are any of 'em wired? After George W. Bush declared "Mission accomplished" in 2003, we lost four thousand men and women. It was not a piece of cake. It was not a walk in the park. The people of Iraq did not meet us as liberators. There were no weapons of mass destruction. And the Big Green Machine is gone. To what end? Kevin Powers has been likened to Erich Maria Remarque. This is a book that should be read by every American. For one has to wonder how many more war memorials does a nation need. How many more graves must be dug at Arlington? "My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori."--Wilfred Owen

  11. 4 out of 5

    Forrest

    My dad was a cold warrior, serving in the Air Force from before my birth to well into my adult years. Part of that time was spent serving in Vietnam and Thailand (and, yes, there was combat in Thailand at the time) where he was a radio operator who also served on base defense whenever his base was attacked. Apparently, this happened a few times in his stay in Southeast Asia. As a boy, being a boy, I asked my Dad "Dad, did you ever get a purple heart?". He responded "No way! I kept my ass down! T My dad was a cold warrior, serving in the Air Force from before my birth to well into my adult years. Part of that time was spent serving in Vietnam and Thailand (and, yes, there was combat in Thailand at the time) where he was a radio operator who also served on base defense whenever his base was attacked. Apparently, this happened a few times in his stay in Southeast Asia. As a boy, being a boy, I asked my Dad "Dad, did you ever get a purple heart?". He responded "No way! I kept my ass down! That's what the Army's for." When I (insensitively) broached the question: "Did you ever kill anyone?" He responded "I don't know. I shot at a few people, but I was too busy keeping my head down to see whether or not I hit them. The Security Police and Army detachments did most of the dirty work. We just laid down fire to keep the enemy pinned." Still, Dad felt the after-effects of combat. When we lived in the Philippines, there was a collision at an intersection where we were waiting at a four-way stop. Dad, more scared than I've ever seen him before or since, opened the car door and hid under the steering column. Even at that young age, I knew that this wasn't normal. Dad's fine now. Has been for years. But I've often wondered what he would be like had he been in heavy combat for longer periods of time. Now, there are plenty of people who have seen combat and come out unscathed, perfectly healthy, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I'm not an alarmist about what combat may or may not do to a person's psyche. No one is doomed to an unhappy life for having been on the front lines. On the other hand, I've personally seen some bad cases of PTSD, some stretching out for many, many years. Some of my earliest memories are those of seeing wounded soldiers, incoming from Vietnam, getting off the medivac helicopters at the base where we lived in the Philippines. It took years before I realized why they were all bandaged up, some on stretchers, some with gauze completely covering their eyes. Now I realize that red and white are not colors you want to see on a soldier. Thankfully, these guys were already stabilized on the hospital ships out in Cam Ranh Bay and were going home, now, or at least back to the States, where they would try to pick up their lives again with what was left of their bodies and souls. So when my son's best friend stated that he was joining the Marines, I was concerned. It's probably the right decision for him, and he's going to be a helicopter munitions crewman, not the most dangerous job, to say the least. Still, I worry about him. The Yellow Birds didn't help. This is as disturbing a novel as you'll read about war. The horrors of the Iraq war were bad enough to see from news reports flashed into my living room, but to see it from the inside out, as it were, from the perspective of a soldier in the thick of it, was difficult to digest. Mechanically, the book is outstanding. My only complaint was that the poetic framework of the book was sometimes exposed, as in the multiple, rapid fire use of the word "and" to try to push the narrative down into a stream of consciousness channel. ". . . and . . . and . . . and . . .". Powers seemed like he was trying too hard to be poetic. It was too clever. Too contrived. Thankfully this only happened a few times. But there is some beautiful prose in this novel, prose that contradicts the ugliness of the situation. The very personal voice of the narrator is buried in the impersonal, unfeeling circumstances: I'd been trained to think war was the great unifier, that it brought people closer together than any other activity on earth. Bullshit. War is the great maker of solipsists: how are you going to save my life today? Dying would be one way. If you die, it becomes more likely that I will not. You're nothing, that's the secret: a uniform in a sea of numbers, a number in a sea of dust. And we somehow thought those numbers were a sign of our own insignificance. We thought that if we remained ordinary, we would not die. We confused correlation with cause and saw a special significance in the portraits of the dead, arranged neatly next to the number corresponding to their place on the growing list of casualties we read in the newspapers, as indications of an ordered war . . . Of course, we were wrong. Our biggest error was thinking it mattered what we thought. It seems absurd now that we saw each death as an affirmation of our lives. That each one of those deaths belonged to a time and that therefore that time was not ours. We didn't know the list was limitless. It's this sense of being caught up in something bigger than oneself that informs the entire novel. There is a feeling of inevitability to the events that occur, an existentialist cosmic mockery of the individuals who think they are their own agents, that they control their own destiny; shades of Orwell's 1984 and the works of Lovecraft, though this fiction feels closer to a memoir than to the fantastical hyperbole of its more speculative cousins. This is grounded in the banal. This feels real: I thought of my grandfather's war. how they had destinations and purpose. How the next day we'd march out under a sun hanging low over the plains in the east. We'd go back into a city that had fought this battle yearly; a slow, bloody parade in fall to mark the change of season. We'd drive them out. We always had. We'd kill them. they'd shoot us and blow off our limbs and run into the hills and wadis, back into the alleys and dusty villages. Then they'd come back, and we'd start over by waving to them as they leaned against lampposts and unfurled green awnings while drinking tea in front of their shops. While we patrolled the streets, we'd throw candy to their children with whom we'd fight in the fall a few more years from now. From the foregoing quotes, you might think that this book is short on hope. You'd be right. It's a downward spiral into meaninglessness and despair, a vortex of emotional numbness. This is not for the faint of heart. But I still recommend it. It's difficult to review this book without becoming a little pedantic, so please excuse me for a moment as I point out one of the reasons you should read the book. Read it, and the next time it's election day, ask yourself whether or not you should go vote. And think carefully on the consequences. Think on the blessing of freedom, including freedom from war and its effects. This book might just cause you to more carefully weigh the alternatives at your disposal and choose wisely. Who knows? With your marker hovering over a check-box in the voting booth or with your hand poised over the phone and the phone book open to your congressman's number, you might just be preventing the sequel to this book from ever having to be written. Though I have little faith that there will be a cessation to the series of war, one of these books is enough for a lifetime.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Orsodimondo

    ADDIO ALLE ARMI Se ci si aspetta una guerra in Iraq vista dal campo di battaglia come l’ha descritta il cinema [Hurt Locker, Green Zone, Jarhead, Redacted, American Sniper…] si potrebbe restare delusi: niente di più distante da quell’adrenalina, da quel caos. Anche un libro come Dispacci sembra parlare di un altro argomento. ”Jarhead” di Sam Mendes, 2005. In queste pagine la follia della guerra ha andamento per nulla nervoso, più da trip di oppio che di anfetamina. Cosa mi aspettavo quando ho preso ADDIO ALLE ARMI Se ci si aspetta una guerra in Iraq vista dal campo di battaglia come l’ha descritta il cinema [Hurt Locker, Green Zone, Jarhead, Redacted, American Sniper…] si potrebbe restare delusi: niente di più distante da quell’adrenalina, da quel caos. Anche un libro come Dispacci sembra parlare di un altro argomento. ”Jarhead” di Sam Mendes, 2005. In queste pagine la follia della guerra ha andamento per nulla nervoso, più da trip di oppio che di anfetamina. Cosa mi aspettavo quando ho preso in mano questi Uccelli Gialli? Probabilmente di trovare il capolavoro così tanto reclamizzato, dai connazionali di Powers, e da recensori e commentatori nostrani. ”Redacted” di Brian De Palma, 2007. Non è il capolavoro di cui in tanti parlano, non è ‘il più’: ma, è comunque un romanzo interessante, per certi versi un buon romanzo, guastato da alcune debolezze. ”The Hurt Locker” di Kathryn Bigelow, 2008. Questo film vinse 6 Oscar nel 2010. Il problema maggiore risiede in quello che secondo me ha affascinato la maggior parte dei lettori, il fatto che Powers prima che romanziere sia un poeta. Purtroppo, in queste pagine c’è un eccesso di lirismo, la ricercatezza lessicale trasformata in leziosità (mai un cielo che possa essere descritto con meno di un elenco di aggettivi), ci sono momenti pomposi e retorici. E ci sono cose che odorano di scuola di scrittura creativa, a cominciare dalla trama. M ”Green Zone” di Paul Greengrass, 2010. Ma ci sono anche cose belle. È tutto un omaggio a Hemingway, a cominciare dall’incipit, che rimanda ad “Addio alle armi”. C’è un senso diffuso di gentilezza, di struggimento, di affetto, immune da rabbia e risentimento. C’è un senso d’attesa, nonostante la fine sia nota sin dal principio. ”American Sniper” di Clint Eastwood, 2014, vincitore di un Oscar minore (montaggio del suono). C’è anche tanta compassione: peccato che l’oggetto di tale sentimento non siano mai i presunti nemici, gli haji, le prime vittime di quest’altra guerra del cazzo.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    Wow! I don't really know what to say about this book. The prose was a bit "fancy" for me but the story, I think, is very important. Being that the author was there, I'm assuming it is an accurate portrayal of the horrors of the war. It is such a sad and horrible story but also a very good story (does that make sense?). It is hard to imagine what these young men and women go through and then to come back here and try to live a "normal" life, seems almost impossible. This has been made into a movi Wow! I don't really know what to say about this book. The prose was a bit "fancy" for me but the story, I think, is very important. Being that the author was there, I'm assuming it is an accurate portrayal of the horrors of the war. It is such a sad and horrible story but also a very good story (does that make sense?). It is hard to imagine what these young men and women go through and then to come back here and try to live a "normal" life, seems almost impossible. This has been made into a movie. It will be heart wrenching to watch.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Blair

    On the day I finished this book and decided it was one of the most overrated things I've read in ages, it won the Guardian's first book award for 2012. Ha. I am obviously in a minority with my opinions about The Yellow Birds - I can find few negative reviews (certainly none from critics), and it seems none of those who dislike it do so for all the same reasons as me. The Yellow Birds is a vague, hazy story about two American soldiers: John Bartle and his young, naive friend, Daniel Murphy, known On the day I finished this book and decided it was one of the most overrated things I've read in ages, it won the Guardian's first book award for 2012. Ha. I am obviously in a minority with my opinions about The Yellow Birds - I can find few negative reviews (certainly none from critics), and it seems none of those who dislike it do so for all the same reasons as me. The Yellow Birds is a vague, hazy story about two American soldiers: John Bartle and his young, naive friend, Daniel Murphy, known as Murph. When the pair are sent to Iraq, Bartle makes an ill-advised promise to Murph's mother that he will protect her son. As far as the book has a plot, this moment forms its backbone - the reader knows from the beginning that Murph dies before the army returns home. Split between Virginia (the home state of both men) in 2005 and Iraq in 2004, the narrative progresses towards an explanation of what happened to Murph and why Bartle feels so guilty about it, as well as examining Bartle's difficulties in adjusting to civilian life. Powers was a soldier himself, and fought in Iraq, so there is a sense that this is a thinly veiled autobiography, particularly as Bartle's story is told in first person. Because the background of this story is the Iraq war, I expected it to actually be about the Iraq war, rather than just war, generally (and it's barely about that anyway). I thought the narrative would have questions to ask - why these men were there, what they thought they were doing, what their personal justifications were for fighting. In fact, there's none of this - the characters just go ahead and do what they're told. To be fair, I suppose that's probably true of the mentality of soldiers, otherwise they wouldn't be good soldiers, but it isn't what I wanted from this book. There is no examination of the war itself, as the focus is all on Bartle and Murph's relationship: when Powers touches on the psychological aftermath of war, it's only with reference to what happened to Murph, with barely an acknowledgement of all the other killing Bartle has done. I couldn't muster much sympathy for the characters, partly because they knew what they were going to Iraq to do, and partly because I just didn't believe the two protagonists could really be all that close. I also don't think this book is as well-written as a lot of people think it is. It's florid, that's all, and sometimes the description works and sometimes it doesn't. At points, the narrative is so heavily descriptive it stops making sense. By the time I finished the book I was absolutely sick of all the hyperbole, all the laboured metaphors and supposedly 'poetic' language. Reviews quoted on the jacket of The Yellow Birds laud it as 'deeply compelling' and 'inexplicably beautiful': I found it dull, annoying and vague. I wasn't moved or shocked or anything like that, not a bit. This is the first time in ages that I have not only disliked a book but have also completely disagreed with the critics that it's well-written - I've read plenty of much-praised novels I haven't liked, but usually I can still appreciate the skill involved in creating them (see Skippy Dies and The Sea, for example). I am getting a sense from some reviews (in the press, that is, not from readers) that there's a reluctance to criticise this book because it was written by a real-life war veteran. In any case, the rest of the world (and the Guardian) and I are just going to have to agree to disagree about The Yellow Birds.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    1.99 Kindle Special Lyrical, brutal prose. Kevin Powers was 17 when he joined the army, the lieutenant in his novel was in his early 20's. I realized while reading this book the very high price of freedom, I suppose that's true of all wars. As with The Things They Carried, Lone Survivor and other books I've read this is one I won't forget! Heavy on my heart. Great first novel on a difficult subject.

  16. 5 out of 5

    David Baldacci

    This fictionalized account of a soldier's time in the Middle East has received critical attention from all corners, and deservedly so. It’s a book that will make you think long after the last page has fallen.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tori

    Contrary to most of the other reviewers, I loved this. Absence of strict plot does not a bad novel make. It is certainly more poetic than books that are strictly categorized as novels these days. I think war stories in particular benefit from a more poetic, stream-of-consciousness type writing. Seldom does war itself follow a strict plot line, why would war literature do so. Characters may be deemed somewhat lacking, but the story isn't really about them, it's about the experience, and I think P Contrary to most of the other reviewers, I loved this. Absence of strict plot does not a bad novel make. It is certainly more poetic than books that are strictly categorized as novels these days. I think war stories in particular benefit from a more poetic, stream-of-consciousness type writing. Seldom does war itself follow a strict plot line, why would war literature do so. Characters may be deemed somewhat lacking, but the story isn't really about them, it's about the experience, and I think Powers does a wonderful job representing the horrors of war and the experience of returning home to less than nothing. Highly recommended. Can't wait for this to come out.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Lou

    The inundated reports of wars and turmoil in the middle-east have created blind eyes and death ears to many as the death toll ever increases and people have lost count on the fallen. Death seems to not be noticed as much as it should, except that is, for those that have lost loved ones of kin, love, and friendship in these wars plaguing the earth. This story could possibly win the attention of those guilty of this and make the dead count for those readers in the alien region of understanding this The inundated reports of wars and turmoil in the middle-east have created blind eyes and death ears to many as the death toll ever increases and people have lost count on the fallen. Death seems to not be noticed as much as it should, except that is, for those that have lost loved ones of kin, love, and friendship in these wars plaguing the earth. This story could possibly win the attention of those guilty of this and make the dead count for those readers in the alien region of understanding this dilemma, you feel the loss the confusion and the betrayal of this unending war in this wonderful stringed together story of fiction that could not be far from truths of the occurrences in the Iraq of recent years. This writer knows the battlefield as he served as a gunner in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, you feel the terrain in the unrelenting unforgiving desert and the human emotion coupled with the bloody reality of the task the main protagonist had before him. The author writes of the main protagonist in chapters that alternate from being in Iraq serving with a close buddy Murphy and being in Virginia out of the army. The main protagonist reflections are heart felt and thought provoking and you can’t avoid thinking that the authors actual real experiences and feelings have some play in the content that is categorised as fiction. Just the right number of pages and chapters sizes made this a one seating read that just hooks you in from its beginning to its end. His sentences describe the environment eloquently and exactly like you are there in his shoes which immerses you in the whole story. A memorable story with two key memorable men that will linger in your mind and hopeful not be forgotten as a tragedy and a story of many peoples struggle with war. Thanks to a very capable writer whose survived a world no one would wish to return to or wish upon your enemy or any another soul to partake in. “While we ate, the war fasted, fed by its own deprivation. It made love and gave birth and spread through fire. Then, in summer, the war tried to kill us as the heat blanched all color from the plains. The sun pressed into our skin, and the war sent its citizens rustling into the shade of white buildings. It cast a white shade on everything, like a veil over our eyes. It tried to kill us every day, but it had not succeeded. Not that our safety was preordained. We were not destined to survive. The fact is, we were not destined at all. The war would take what it could get. It was patient. It didn’t care about objectives, or boundaries, whether you were loved by many or not at all. While I slept that summer, the war came to me in my dreams and showed me its sole purpose: to go on, only to go on. And I knew the war would have its way.” “War is the great maker of solipsists: how are you going to save my life today? Dying would be one way. If you die, it becomes more likely that I will not. You’re nothing, that’s the secret: a uniform in a sea of numbers, a number in a sea of dust. And we somehow thought those numbers were a sign of our own insignificance. We thought that if we remained ordinary, we would not die. We confused correlation with cause and saw a special significance in the portraits of the dead, arranged neatly next to the number corresponding to their place on the growing list of casualties we read in the newspapers, as indications of an ordered war.” “It was far too dark to see into it, but the images were there like an etching through the night. The stench of the dead had cut itself free from the odors coming from Al Tafar. The trash fires and sewage, the heavy scent of cured lamb, the river; above all this was the stink of decay from the bodies themselves. A shudder ran through my shoulders, a quick shake, as I hoped not to step into the slick mess of one of them as we marched to the fight.” “When the mortars fell, the leaves and fruit and birds were frayed like ends of rope. They lay on the ground in scattered piles, torn feathers and leaves and the rinds of broken fruit intermingling. The sunlight fell absently through the spaces in the treetops, here and there glistening as if on water from smudges of bird blood and citrus.” “Or should I have said that I wanted to die, not in the sense of wanting to throw myself off of that train bridge over there, but more like wanting to be asleep forever because there isn’t any making up for killing women or even watching women get killed, or for that matter killing men and shooting them in the back and shooting them more times than necessary to actually kill then and it was like just trying to kill everything you saw sometimes because it felt like there was acid seeping down into your soul and then your soul is gone and knowing from being taught your whole life that there is no making up for what you are doing, you’re taught that your whole life, but then even your mother is so happy and proud because you lined up your sight posts and made people crumple and they were not getting up ever and yeah they might have been trying to kill you too, so you say, What are you gonna do?, but really it doesn’t matter because by the end you foiled at the one good thing you could have done, the one person you promised would live is dead, and you have seen all things die in more manners than you’d like to recall and for a while the whole thing fucking ravaged your spirit like some deep-down shit, man, that you didn’t even realise you had until only the animals made you sad, the husks of dogs filled with explosives and old arty shells and the fucking guts and everything stinking like metal and burning garbage and you walk around and the smell is deep down into you now and you say, How can metal be so on fire? and Where is all this ******* trash coming from? and even back home you’re getting whiffs of it and then that thing you started to notice slipping away is gone and now it’s becoming inverted, like you have bottomed out in your spirit but yet a deeper hole is being dug because everybody is so fucking happy to see you, the murderer, the ******* accomplice, the at-bare-minimum bearer of some ******* responsibility, and everyone wants to slap you on the back and you start to want to burn the whole goddamn country down, you want to burn every goddamn yellow ribbon in sight, and you can’t explain it but its just, like, Fuck you, but then you signed up to go so it’s all your fault, really, because you went on a purpose, so you are in the end doubly f*****, so why not just find a spot and curl up and die and lets make it as painless as possible because you are a coward and, really, cowardice got you into this mess because you wanted to be a man and people made fun of you and pushed you around in the cafeteria and the hallways in high school because you liked to read books and poems sometimes and they’d call you a fag and really deep down you know you went because you wanted to be a man and that’s never gonna happen now and you’re too much of a coward to be a man and get it over with so why not find a clean, dry place and wait it out with it hurting as little as possible and just wait to go to sleep and not wake up and fu**’em all.” "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 objects destiny. It is not enough to say what happened. Everything happened. Everything fell.” “I took my woobie out of my pack and covered him. I couldn’t look anymore. Most of us had seen death in many forms: the slick mess after a suicide bomber, headless bodies gathered in a ditch like a collection of broken dolls on a child’s shelf, even our own boys sometimes, bleeding and crying as it became apparent that the sound of a casevac was thirty seconds too far in the distance. But none of us had seen this.”

  19. 4 out of 5

    Larry Bassett

    The boys go off to kill and be killed: The colonel cleared his throat and pulled a pair of glasses out of his pocket and rested them on the bridge of his nose. One of the sergeants came over and shined a small flashlight on the colonel’s piece of paper. “Boys,” he began, “you will soon be asked to do great violence in the cause of good.” He paced back and forth and his boot prints in the fine dust were never trampled. Each step was precise and his pacing only served to firm and define the track The boys go off to kill and be killed: The colonel cleared his throat and pulled a pair of glasses out of his pocket and rested them on the bridge of his nose. One of the sergeants came over and shined a small flashlight on the colonel’s piece of paper. “Boys,” he began, “you will soon be asked to do great violence in the cause of good.” He paced back and forth and his boot prints in the fine dust were never trampled. Each step was precise and his pacing only served to firm and define the tracks that he originally left. The sergeant with the flashlight paced beside him. “I know I don’t have to tell you what kind of enemy you’ll be up against.” His voice became a blunt staccato as he gained confidence in his capacity to motivate us, a bludgeon that smoothed the weary creases in my brain. “This is the land where Jonah is buried, and where he begged for God’s justice to come.” He continued, “We are that justice. Now, I wish I could tell you that all of us are coming back, but I can’t. Some of you will not come back with us.” I was moved then, but what I recall now most vividly about that speech was the colonel’s pride, his satisfaction with his own directness, his disregard for us as individuals. “If you die, know this: we’ll put you on the first bird to Dover. Your families will have a distinction beyond all others. If those bastards want a fight, we’re going to give them one.” He paused. A look of great sentimentality came over him. “I can’t go with you boys,” he explained with regret, “but I’ll be in contact from the operation center the whole time. Give ‘em hell.” I often wonder about the source of the title of a book. In this case, you find out right away and it foreshadows the tenor of the book. A yellow bird With a yellow bill Was perched upon My windowsill I lured him in With a piece of bread And then I smashed His fucking head… -Traditional U.S. Army Marching Cadence The Yellow Birds is identified by the author as a novel so he alone knows what bears some resemblance to his own experience as a soldier in Iraq. There are not happy moments in this book for it is about war, man’s greatest inhumanity to man. The scene alternates between Richmond, Virginia and Al Tafar, Nineveh Province, Iraq. Private Bartle carries the war inside himself wherever he is. The main characters are 21 and 18 when they meet in basic training. At the end of the book the 21 year old is damaged forever and the 18 year old is dead. Kevin Powers, the author, joined the army at the age of 17, later serving as a machine gunner in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. As we know from the death notices, war is fought by young people. That in itself makes war an abomination. We disparage foreign countries that have “child soldiers” without acknowledging the similar role of the United States military. I am used to people being killed in books about war. But I had a strange shock from this book: the “casualty feeder card” kept by each field soldier under his helmet liner. It is the military being bureaucratic: At the top of the card, in the appropriate boxes, Murph had written the requested information. His name: Murphy, Daniel; his social security number; his rank; his unit. Below that were other boxes, left blank in case the need arose to record an assortment of information with a quick X in ink. There was a box for Killed in Action, for Missing in Action, and for Wounded in Action (either lightly or seriously). There was a box for Captured, and for Detained, and for Died as a Result of Wounds. There were two sets of Yes or No boxes, one each for Body Recovered and Body Identified. There was a space for witness remarks and for the signature of the commanding officer or medical personnel. Murph has placed an X in the box for Body Recovered. “Just in case,” he said when he caught me looking. Both of our cards were signed already. Strangely, The Yellow Birds has a certain elegance. You can see that the words have been carefully chosen. The book is both lyrical and distressing. The war tried to kill us in the spring. As grass greened the plains of Nineveh the weather warmed, we patrolled the low-slung hills beyond the cities and towns. … Then, in summer, the war tried to kill us as the heat blanched all color from the plains. The sun pressed into our skin, and the war sent its citizens rustling into the shade of white buildings. It cast a while shade on everything, like a veil over our eyes. … The war had killed thousands by September. The bodies lined pocked avenues at irregular intervals. … We hardly noticed a change with September came. But I know now that everything that will ever matter in my life began then. I guess we needed another distressing book about war. As long as we insist on fighting them, people will continue writing about them. This one is well written and caused me to think about how people deal with the ultimate tragedy of war when they meet it face to face. Maybe we each need to see for ourselves that “his eyes had been gouged out, the two hollow sockets looking like red angry passages to his mind.” Or maybe the colonel back at the operation center needs to see it. We keep trying to hide the crass ugliness of bodies made unrecognizable in war. And the damaged minds of those who survive. Four stars.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jake Goretzki

    I really wanted to like this, having been drawn to the back story and - like a lamb to the slaughter - the 'All Quiet on the Western Front' analogies. Now obviously, there is great value in the account and it’s a strong addition to the growing ‘Iraq novel’ genre. There’s also enough brutality and insight to make it a pretty hard-hitting read. What disappoints is that it’s all pretty disconnected and often just plain overwritten. To be generous, perhaps the idea of a solider-poet in the Iraq war I really wanted to like this, having been drawn to the back story and - like a lamb to the slaughter - the 'All Quiet on the Western Front' analogies. Now obviously, there is great value in the account and it’s a strong addition to the growing ‘Iraq novel’ genre. There’s also enough brutality and insight to make it a pretty hard-hitting read. What disappoints is that it’s all pretty disconnected and often just plain overwritten. To be generous, perhaps the idea of a solider-poet in the Iraq war is still too incongruous for me – perhaps I’m expecting that ‘grunt’ perspective (‘grunt’ being the term Jarhead uses) and a stronger hold on the ‘feeling’ of war. The problem with a soldier poet, you see, is that disconnect: he’s forever looking at the light and shade, the soft lifting of the dust and the clouds. He’d prefer to write about the sunlight than the white fear of getting hit by a mortar. He’s also got a tendency to mysticism which tended to annoy me a little, e.g. “…one never knows if what one sees will disappear forever….” Moments too also felt extremely ‘first novel’. A glorious example (which should go on James Woods’ ‘writing about photographs’ blacklist) is the beginning of a description of a Polaroid of Murph and his girlfriend. It’s a First Novel War Crime: “They stood on a dirt track. The earth rose behind them, up out of the picture towards its promontory. The mountain was covered by beech and magnolia, white ash and maple, tulip trees, and all the colors of the flowers were bright and definite in the rays of light that settle through the upper branches…’. (NB he’s describing a Polaroid here). There were also times where I just struggled to believe. The stand off in the German brothel was one. Would a barmaid in a German brothel really have ‘tears running down her mascara’ within seconds of an altercation with a GI? Wouldn’t bouncers turn up? I also don’t think the structure – shifting from Iraq action to US aftermath and back - served the novel especially well. It had the effect of rather losing any grip. We know how John has fared (more or less) and we know Murph didn’t do quite as well. So, interesting and welcome - but a little overwritten and disconnected. I still stand by ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ – ‘grunt’ par excellence and very smart on politics.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Srividya

    “Ma, I am enlisting,” said the Boy “But…why? You are so young?,” said the Mother worried and perplexed. “I am 18,” said the boy, “quite capable of doing what I want to do,” he added with emphasis and a certain vehemence in his tone. “But….why? I don’t understand this sudden decision,” said the mother again “I need to be a man and what better way to become one than to go fight for my country,” said the boy in a tone that brooked no argument. “But you are a man to me.. isn’t that enough?,” asked the mo “Ma, I am enlisting,” said the Boy “But…why? You are so young?,” said the Mother worried and perplexed. “I am 18,” said the boy, “quite capable of doing what I want to do,” he added with emphasis and a certain vehemence in his tone. “But….why? I don’t understand this sudden decision,” said the mother again “I need to be a man and what better way to become one than to go fight for my country,” said the boy in a tone that brooked no argument. “But you are a man to me.. isn’t that enough?,” asked the mother not wanting to let go of her only child, who was perhaps her only reason to live. “Ma, you just don’t understand. Staying here will restrict my growth. I want to see the world outside, I want to do big things in life, I want….to be a MAN not a BOY!”, said the boy with an anger that was beyond the mother's comprehension. “Let me go and be happy for me,” he added... And so the mother let her child go…go to a war in order to become a man, worried about the future but not saying anything. She takes leave of her son as he sails away into lands unknown and terrifying, keeping his youthful face in her mind and hoping that he will return to her, safe and sound; praying as she had never prayed before, to the god who she might have just started to dislike a little – for what god is he who cannot prevent such wars, she thinks. The boy goes to war, takes his place with his mates with pride and eagerness, looks with awe at those who have gone through this several times, and thinks to himself, this is it, this is what will change my life and make me a MAN! Change it does, for every experience in life changes you – for better or for worse, depends on the experience itself, but you change nevertheless! Becoming a MAN is so important for some that they go to extremes such as this boy, without truly understanding the meaning of what it means to go to war. And by the time they realise it, it’s just too late and perhaps the change so irrevocable that you can just hope and pray that they survive! So it was with the young heroes in this book – Bartle and Murphy – two young lads who enlisted to tell the world that they were ready to fight for their country, to become men. Their ambitions were certainly pride worthy and their dedication most profound but what they got at the end, was something that I don’t think they were prepared for or even expecting! This is a beautiful story of these two young lads who set off for war in Iraq and are part of a team that invades a particular city. While other teams have been here earlier, it is the first time for these two boys and their youth has not prepared them for the destruction and hatred they see and experience during their days in this once beautiful city. This is a story of death, of destruction, of the futility of war, a tale of friendship and loss, of growing up and finally of losing your innocence. The story is told by John Bartle, who was 21 at the time of enlistment and it’s his story along with that of Murphy, who was just 18 when he enlisted. This is my first book by the author and I was enthralled by the pictures he wove in my mind with his words. I could hear the soothing call of the muezzin over the louder and more destructive sounds of bombs and gunfire. I was in Al- Tafar with these boys and experiencing war as they went through their motions; I experienced their pain, their angst, their small moments of happiness, their reasons for their actions and above all their emotional bonding; such was the power of the prose. Alas, I have to admit that this powerful prose was not there throughout the book. Where parts of the book were brilliant in their evocation, others were a bit dragging and often confusing! The shifts in the time of narration didn’t help at all, as they confused me further! However, despite these small irks, I think Mr. Powers got across his message to me – his message of why boys go to war and what war does to these boys! Recently, I read something in another book that had me nodding in agreement. We think women are the only ones who are marginalised or discriminated against, while this may be true in a majority of cases, it is equally true that boys go through a similar kind of discrimination. How often have we heard someone tell a young boy – “You are NOT a man unless you prove that you have the ability to deal with emotional situations without succumbing to it. You have to be strong, else you are not a man! You go to war and only then are you a MAN! And in that war – Boy, don’t shed tears for there is no place for tears. Loss is what you get and you will have to accept it. Friends don’t matter, enemies don’t matter – what matters is you and only you!” I wonder why society feels so strongly about this need for every boy to prove himself to be a man in such a destructive way. I wonder why society doesn’t realise the futility or even the dangers that they are leading these young, impressionable boys to, with such words. Alas society has never understood the futility of fighting and maybe never will, but can’t we as readers can take that first step towards change by understanding it? I guess that was what Mr. Powers wanted to express through this book. This is definitely not the best book in this genre and definitely not the most thought provoking one either, but it is definitely a book that makes you think and question your own actions and reactions, your thoughts and most of all your reasons for those thoughts; and in my eyes, that is a mark of a good book! I enjoyed it, if I can call becoming heavy hearted and thoughtful, enjoyment; nevertheless, it was an experience that I truly cherished, and who knows, so might you!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    Some people are just born to write. Kevin Powers, in this debut book, is certainly one of them. The Yellow Birds is breathtaking good, profoundly insightful and written with an incredible amount of emotional precision. Some might compare it to other war-themed books: The Naked and the Dead, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Things They Carried, or even A Separate Peace. They would, in my opinion, be misguided. This is not the quintessential book about the Iraqi War, even though the settings are Some people are just born to write. Kevin Powers, in this debut book, is certainly one of them. The Yellow Birds is breathtaking good, profoundly insightful and written with an incredible amount of emotional precision. Some might compare it to other war-themed books: The Naked and the Dead, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Things They Carried, or even A Separate Peace. They would, in my opinion, be misguided. This is not the quintessential book about the Iraqi War, even though the settings are mainly the battlefield of Iraq and “home”, in this case, Richmond, Virginia. Rather, it is a book about all wars and all situations that force us to live with becoming less than human. What happens, Kevin Powers postulates, when youngsters – barely out of their teens – must go against everything they’ve been taught as moral? Is there “any making up for killing women or even watching women get killed, or for that matter killing men and shooting them in the back and shooting them more times than necessary to kill everything you saw sometimes because it felt like there was acid seeping down into your soul and then your soul is gone…” This is a book about those who became unaware “of even our own savagery now: the beatings and the kicked dogs, the searches and the sheer brutality of our presence.” It is about the promise that one boy – John Bartle -- makes to another boy’s mother that he cannot possibly keep. It is about someone who cannot return to the ordinary despite his most fervent wishes: “If I could not forget, then I’d hope to be forgotten.” And most of all, it’s about young men who should be in the height of life who are forced to be on intimate knowledge with death: “It seems absurd now that we saw each death as an affirmation of our lives. That each one of those deaths belonged to a time and that therefore that time was not ours. We didn’t know the list was limitless.” None of the quotes I used reflect the pure elegiac beauty of the prose, beginning with the first line: ‘The war tried to kill us in the spring.” The war could be any war or anything that creates detachment and devalues human life. “The world makes liars of us all,” Kevin Powers writes at one point. Yet in this magnificent prose, the truth shines through.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Camilla

    I’ve been sitting here thinking about what I want to write and tell you about this book, but it’s really.. really hard.. The storyline in itself isn’t that hard. It’s told from John’s POV. He’s thinking back to when he was in the military and stationed in Iraq in 2004/05. He’s thinking about his friend Murph and how a war can change a person. This in itself isn’t that hard to explain, but I find it really hard to figure out if I liked it or not. And how do I review a book if I don’t even know if I I’ve been sitting here thinking about what I want to write and tell you about this book, but it’s really.. really hard.. The storyline in itself isn’t that hard. It’s told from John’s POV. He’s thinking back to when he was in the military and stationed in Iraq in 2004/05. He’s thinking about his friend Murph and how a war can change a person. This in itself isn’t that hard to explain, but I find it really hard to figure out if I liked it or not. And how do I review a book if I don’t even know if I like it or not? I think this book needs a 2nd read-through before I can make up my mind, but I never read a book twice, so that’s not gonna happen, but never-the-less I think this book could be a book where you see much more the 2nd time around. The story jumps back and forth in time, and so I think it would help to know some things the 2nd time. John is a very likable guy, and you really feel for him. I just didn’t really.. fall for him and the book while reading, if you know what I mean. I didn’t get hooked, and maybe it’s because the story is very heavy and.. full of words.. Ok, yes, I know a book is made up of words but there are a lot of words, and it’s constant. I felt like I didn’t get to catch my breath. But maybe that’s what John felt too? 2 stars.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Perry

    Blurry and Vivid, At Times Agonizing, Gaze into Ponderous Reality of Veteran of War in Iraq A splendid short novel looking into the mind of a combat soldier, the war he survived, and the murders of body and soul that he witnessed. The story offers perhaps an understanding, in part, of the military's escalated suicide rate now. Private Bartle, the protagonist, speaking of trying to cope with everyday existence back home:"You want to fall, that's all. You think it can't go on like that. It's as if y Blurry and Vivid, At Times Agonizing, Gaze into Ponderous Reality of Veteran of War in Iraq A splendid short novel looking into the mind of a combat soldier, the war he survived, and the murders of body and soul that he witnessed. The story offers perhaps an understanding, in part, of the military's escalated suicide rate now. Private Bartle, the protagonist, speaking of trying to cope with everyday existence back home:"You want to fall, that's all. You think it can't go on like that. It's as if your life is a perch on the edge of a cliff and going forward seems impossible, not for a lack of will, but a lack of space. The possibility of another day stands in defiance of the laws of physics. And you can't go back. So you want to fall, let go, give up, but you can't. And every breath you take reminds you of that fact. So it goes." Obviously, the last sentence a tribute to the classic war novel, Slaughterhouse Five.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Libby Chester

    ‘The Yellow Birds’ by Kevin Powers is only 226 pages long, but its weight is massive. With some of the most beautiful language that I’ve recently read, Powers explodes onto the page with the ponderous heft of war, its often horrific images and terrible consequences, but with such tenderness and grace, with such poetic imagery, that I had to back away at times from my reading just to keep from being totally absorbed. Some of it is hard hitting for me because my 18 year old grandson is in the US a ‘The Yellow Birds’ by Kevin Powers is only 226 pages long, but its weight is massive. With some of the most beautiful language that I’ve recently read, Powers explodes onto the page with the ponderous heft of war, its often horrific images and terrible consequences, but with such tenderness and grace, with such poetic imagery, that I had to back away at times from my reading just to keep from being totally absorbed. Some of it is hard hitting for me because my 18 year old grandson is in the US army at Qatar right now. It was so easy for me to visualize main characters Private Daniel Murphy, 18 years old, and Private John Bartle, 21 years old because of my own familiarity with the mostly hairless face of my own grandson, of his youthful naivete, of his dreams and often idealistic hopes for the future. The weight of ‘The Yellow Birds’ is felt within the heart, and would be for most, regardless of any connection such as I have. Bartle is our narrator in first person POV, highly effective for this novel, for we are placed in the mishmash of all his feelings about what is happening and what has happened, as well as in the middle of his experiences in Al Tafar, Iraq. Chapters alternate mostly between Iraq in 2004 and being home in Richmond, Virginia in 2005, showing the conditions of the war, and then, how things are for the narrator after the war. In the base gymnasium at Fort Dix, New Jersey, there is a get together with family right before deployment. Bartles mother says, “I told you not to do this, John,” then says, “I’m sorry. Let’s have a nice time.” After she’s left, Murphy’s mother, LaDonna approaches Bartles and charges him with looking after Murphy. Bartles promises he will. For this Sgt. Sterling punches him out after family members have left, saying “You shouldn’t have done that, Private.” Although Power’s words explode onto the page, it’s really in my heart that I feel these little and sometimes great explosions, because his words are not showy. It’s what he’s saying, and yes, how he says it, that causes this reaction. The dialogue is rough and on point for how I think servicemen talk. The action is often distressing. Powers was a machine gunner in 2004 and 2005 in Iraq, so the events and their sequences, and Bartle’s thoughts that we are privy to, are credible. Powers writes about the boys on the plane as they are returning home: “It can’t be patterned, as a group of boys can become a calculus for what will go ungrieved, the shoulders slumping in the seats of a chartered plane, the empty seats between them, how if God had looked on us during that flight back home we might have seemed like fabric ready to be thrown, in the surrendered blankness of our sleep, over the furniture of a thousand empty houses.” For me, that is impossibly beautiful imagery. His first chapter starts, “The war tried to kill us in the spring” and the last chapter begins “Then it was spring again in all the spoiled cities of America. He makes me feel it. Powers was also a Michener Fellow in Poetry, which I perceive in the strength and perfection of his lines. I did have to do some rereading at times to gain a better understanding of what I was reading. This narrative style may be off putting for some, but I enjoyed it tremendously. Highly recommended.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    Halfway through our ongoing war on terror, a scholar at the University of East London estimated that a new book on terrorism was being published in English every six hours. Fiction writers were slower to engage with Sept. 11, but by 2006, the attacks and America’s response were becoming a touchstone for major novelists, including Jonathan Safran Foer, Ian McEwan, Claire Messud, Ward Just, John Updike, Don DeLillo, Joseph O’Neill, Andre Debus III, Lorrie Moore, Allegra Goodman, Sue Miller and man Halfway through our ongoing war on terror, a scholar at the University of East London estimated that a new book on terrorism was being published in English every six hours. Fiction writers were slower to engage with Sept. 11, but by 2006, the attacks and America’s response were becoming a touchstone for major novelists, including Jonathan Safran Foer, Ian McEwan, Claire Messud, Ward Just, John Updike, Don DeLillo, Joseph O’Neill, Andre Debus III, Lorrie Moore, Allegra Goodman, Sue Miller and many, many others. Even more than a decade into that insatiable conflict, two of the best novels of this year — “Wish You Were Here,” by Graham Swift, and “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” by Ben Fountain — revolve around soldiers returning home from Iraq. And now comes a novel about the Iraq war written by an Iraq war veteran. Kevin Powers enlisted at 17 and served as an Army machine gunner in Mosul and Tal Afar in 2004-05. After returning home, he studied creative writing and poetry at the University of Texas at Austin. “The Yellow Birds” is his first novel, and though it isn’t the first work of fiction about the war on terror by someone who actually fought in it, such books fill a relatively short shelf. “The Yellow Birds” reads like a collection of 11 linked short stories. Except for one that takes place in Germany, they move back and forth between Iraq in the fall of 2004 and the United States from 2003 to 2009. The narrator is John Bartle, a pensive, guilt-ridden vet recalling his friendship with another young soldier he calls Murph. “We were boys then,” Bartle says, and in the disturbing scenes of battle that he describes, it’s impossible to forget that these soldiers carrying out the fantasies of politicians back in Washington are barely old enough to vote. Bartle and Murph form the sort of intense friendship that battle cements quickly. Two Virginia boys, they’d “had small lives, populated by a longing for something more substantial than dirt roads and small dreams.” The younger man’s naivete appeals to Bartle’s sense of responsibility. As they’re getting ready to ship out, he makes a solemn promise to Murph’s mother to bring her son back home safely. But he admits early on, “The world makes liars of us all,” and the rest of the novel is a tortured search for how he failed to protect his friend in battle, an effort to “assemble all the marks into a story that made sense.” The first chapter demonstrates what Powers can do so well, and anthology editors should be fighting over the rights to excerpt it from the novel. “The war tried to kill us in the spring,” he begins. “We stayed awake on amphetamines and fear. I pushed my chest off the rooftop and crested the low wall, trying to scan the few acres of the world for which we were responsible.” Patrolling the streets with his buddies, Bartle describes a life in which the most lurid scenes of carnage have become routine. “Nothing seemed more natural than someone getting killed,” he says. “We only pay attention to rare things, and death was not rare.” Watching a civilian being shot in the street, he wants to jump up and yell, “What kind of men are we?” but then suddenly he realizes, “I was shooting at him and I wouldn’t stop until I was sure that he was dead.” Throughout “The Yellow Birds,” amid the gore and the terror and the boredom, you can hear notes of Powers’s work as a poet. At the end of one story, “The sun set like a clot of blood on the horizon.” In another, “While we slept, the war rubbed its thousand ribs against the ground in prayer,” he writes. “When we pressed onward throughout exhaustion, its eyes were white and open in the dark. While we ate, the war fasted, fed by its own deprivation. It made love and gave birth and spread through fire.” More than a little of that rich language would risk turning the novel florid, but Powers rarely oversteps. In the best sections, he moves gracefully between spare, factual description of the soldiers’ work to simple, hard-won reflections on the meaning of war. “I’d been trained to think war was a great unifier,” he says, “that it brought people closer together than any other activity on earth. Bullshit. War is the great maker of solipsists: how are you going to save my life today?” His lacerating honesty never feels false or fails to shock, as when he admits, “We only grieved those we knew. All others who died in Al Tafar were part of the landscape, as if something had sown seeds in that city that made bodies rise from the earth.” The Iraq stories are hard to compete with, but some of the alternating chapters of his stunted life back home are sometimes effective, too. Despite how politicized the war on terror has been from the start, Bartle reserves his greatest anger for America’s unified gratitude, those cheery yellow ribbons, the back-slapping congratulations, everyone telling him, “Thank you for your service,” as though they had any idea why he went, what he accomplished, or what price he paid in that remote corner of the world. Tempering one’s enthusiasm for a vet’s war novel seems, if not unpatriotic, then at least peevish and small-minded. Surely, anyone who has survived battle and lived to write about it this well deserves to ride through the bookstore under a flurry of confetti made from congratulatory blurbs. That’s certainly been the initial response to “The Yellow Bird.” Tom Wolfe calls it “ ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ of America’s Arab wars.” Anthony Swofford, who knows battle himself, sets it alongside Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried.” Philip Caputo compares its opening to “Moby-Dick,” but sensing perhaps that that’s insufficient, goes on to invoke “The Iliad.” This sort of praise helps attract attention in a fall publishing season crowded with big, splashy books from Michael Chabon and J.K. Rowling, but it also raises crushing expectations for a modest, affecting novel like this one. Because, frankly, the parts of “The Yellow Bird” are better than the whole. Some chapters lack sufficient power, others labor under the influence of classic war stories, rather than arising organically from the author’s unique vision. Murph risks being a hick cliche, and moments of recycled Hemingway sound glib, e.g.: “They were young and had girls at home or some dream that they thought would make their lives important. They had been wrong of course.” At other times, Powers gets snarled up in his own language, as in this sentence: “Home, too, was hard to get an image of, harder still to think beyond the last curved enclosure of the desert, where it seemed I had left the better portion of myself as one among innumerable grains of sand, how in the end the weather-beaten stone is not one stone but only that which has been weathered, a result, an example of slow erosion on a thing by wind or waves that break against it, so that the else of anyone involved ends up deposited like silt spilling out into an estuary, or gathered at the bottom of a river in a city that is all you can remember.” Lost in a thicket like that, we need an editor to bring back the poet who wrote, “The war tried to kill us in the spring.” Powers hasn’t written a classic war novel yet, but there are enough victories in these pages to suggest he’s marching in the right direction. http://www.washingtonpost.com/enterta...

  27. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    “The world makes liars of us all.” “The Yellow Birds” is a novel I will have to think about some more, and possibly read again before I feel I have a fully formed view of it. This is a text that I think is ridiculously overpraised and it is overwritten, and yet it is a good book, and at times it is beautifully written and realized. The text shifts between the present (mainly 2005, after the narrator’s tour of duty) and his time in country in Iraq (fall of 2004). This is an effective narrative choi “The world makes liars of us all.” “The Yellow Birds” is a novel I will have to think about some more, and possibly read again before I feel I have a fully formed view of it. This is a text that I think is ridiculously overpraised and it is overwritten, and yet it is a good book, and at times it is beautifully written and realized. The text shifts between the present (mainly 2005, after the narrator’s tour of duty) and his time in country in Iraq (fall of 2004). This is an effective narrative choice as it gives the protagonist perspective and the space of time to analyze his war experiences. The story focuses mainly on the narrator and his buddy and how the war shapes their relationship and effects them as individuals. It is a story that is told on the surface level only, but the strength of Kevin Powers’ writing is that he conveys much more depth and meaning than just what the words say. This allows the novel to clock in at a quick 226 pages, and still be a fully realized story. Another strength of the text is the use of gaps in information. Pieces of the whole story are slowly revealed to the reader, and each little piece is revealed with no fanfare. It just appears nonchalantly at the appropriate time in the narrative. It is well done. There is also an interior monologue in chapter seven that the narrator delivers (pages 144-146 in the hardcover) that is breathtaking. The prose in “The Yellow Birds” is lyrical and at times, it is the novel’s greatest asset. At other times it is its own worst enemy. The ending of the novel seems to just peter out and it detracts from what otherwise is a solid text. This is the second or third novel I have read that deals with America’s Arab wars and none of them has really satisfied me. Maybe I am too close to the experience. Maybe we need a gap of time. I am not sure. Regardless, I am glad that I read “The Yellow Birds”. I cannot say that about the other novels I have read about the Iraq War. This book will be worth revisiting.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Petergiaquinta

    I’d like to accord Kevin Powers’ book the same respect I give him and all our vets back from Iraq, but a book isn’t a man and a book doesn’t automatically earn my deference and appreciation. I didn’t dislike the novel, and I tried liking it harder even to the point of starting it for a second read as soon as I finished it. I love its opening paragraphs (shades of Hemingway there, I thought), but after that I had a hard time warming to the book which felt to me as if it was trying too hard in all I’d like to accord Kevin Powers’ book the same respect I give him and all our vets back from Iraq, but a book isn’t a man and a book doesn’t automatically earn my deference and appreciation. I didn’t dislike the novel, and I tried liking it harder even to the point of starting it for a second read as soon as I finished it. I love its opening paragraphs (shades of Hemingway there, I thought), but after that I had a hard time warming to the book which felt to me as if it was trying too hard in all its earnest attempts to be well liked. Toward the middle of the novel, as the narrator Private John Bartles finds himself back in America, I found myself drawn better into the story, and Powers’ strength as an author is here as he conveys the difficulties this combat veteran has returning to the world he lived in before Iraq. Bartles holes up in his mother’s house, unable to rejoin the life he left three years before. In a key moment of the novel, Bartles watches his friends at the James River swimming and enjoying themselves; he has been invited to join them, but he has refused and yet goes on his own, watching like a stranger from the other side of the river: “I had become a kind of cripple. They were my friends, right? Why didn’t I just wade out to them? What would I say? ‘Hey, how are you?’ they’d say. And I’d answer, ‘I feel like I’m being eaten from the inside out and I can’t tell anyone what’s going on because everyone is so grateful to me all the time and I’ll feel like I’m ungrateful or something. Or like I’ll give away that I don’t deserve anyone’s gratitude and really they should all hate me for what I’ve done but everyone loves me for it and it’s driving me crazy.’ Right.” And by the end of the novel as the reader finally discovers exactly what is eating up Bartles on the inside, I had almost been won over and was thinking that perhaps I would give the novel five stars, a grudging five stars for sure, but I started thinking maybe it had overcome its shortcomings to earn those five stars. However, as I went back and re-read the book, I settled back into my original way of thinking. Stylistically there are some problems; the tone doesn’t work well for me, and Powers just doesn’t tie up his loose ends very well. (What, for example, is he doing with all the horse imagery? It’s all over the book, but it doesn’t work toward anything as far as I can tell.) The novel has its moments and some of those moments flirt with greatness, but overall the book just doesn’t satisfy me for what I want it to be or, more importantly, what I think the author wants it to be. There’s a really great war novel yet to be written about the dishonest, wasteful clusterfuck lie that is the Iraq War, but The Yellow Birds isn’t quite it. “The world makes liars of us all,” says Bartles early in the book, and that’s never more true than in a time of war. Powers seems to be reworking that old line, “Truth is the first casualty of war,” throughout The Yellow Birds, and there’s nothing more appropriate than that line when it comes to talking about the Iraq War, a war started by our nation based on a series of horrible lies told at the highest levels of our government and fed to a gullible, grasping American public courtesy of a cowardly, lazy media that has yet to reclaim its credibility. Those lies have staying power, and if you asked the average American about the causes of the Iraq War or what we accomplished there now that we’ve left, he would most likely parrot those lies back to you even today. Or perhaps especially today because those lies have a perverse way of becoming the truth in retrospect, and Powers does something really interesting in his novel with memory and perspective and time as they serve to obscure the truth. This discussion of truth and the Iraq War is most pertinent to the novel because a tremendous obfuscation of the truth is at the core of this novel. The narrator John Bartles has told a lie; even more so, he’s participated in obscuring the truth to his fellow soldiers, to the Army and to his friend Daniel Murphy’s mother, and the burden of what he has done weighs heavily on him through the rest of his tour in Iraq and will not allow him any measure of peace once he returns home. Powers’ examination of truth and lies and the way memory and time play a role in creating the truth is his novel’s best aspect, and perhaps owes in part some inspiration to the way that Tim O’Brien plays with similar ideas in his novels set in Vietnam, The Things They Carried and Going after Cacciato (and even more so in In the Lake of the Woods). Bartles says of a map of Iraq taped to the wall of his cabin back in America: “That map, like every other, would soon be out of date, if it was not already. What it had been indexed to was only an idea of a place, an abstraction formed from memories too brief and passing to account for the small effects of time: wind scouring and lifting the dust of the plains of Nineveh in immeasurable increments, the tuck of a river farther into its bend, hour by hour, year by year; the map would become less and less a picture of a fact and more a poor translation of memory in two dimensions. It reminded me of talking, how what is said is never quite what was thought, and what is heard is never quite what was said.” If there are echoes of Tim O’Brien here, the novel also tips its hat to Vonnegut and Heller. Like Billy Pilgrim, Johnny Bartles could be said to have come unstuck in time after the events in Al Tafar, and, as in Catch-22, Powers chooses to tell his story through a disjointed narrative that gradually works itself out as the details of a horrific episode hinted at early in the novel become clearer and the truth of what has happened is unveiled in all its ugliness. And like in Slaughterhouse-Five, Bartles not only keeps looking back just like Lot’s wife (Vonnegut's narrator in SH-5 says he loves her for that and even calls himself a “pillar of salt,” something we might just call Bartles here), but as with Billy Pilgrim he struggles with free will, choice and causality (and just in case you didn’t get it, Powers drops in a “So it goes” for you). So part of me wants to embrace this book and put it on the shelf with O’Brien and Heller and Vonnegut, but I don’t think I can quite do it. The Yellow Birds should be read as we in America try and come to terms with the lies told by our government and the terrible destruction unleashed by this ridiculous war, but I think there will be another better novel written in the future that better captures the cost of this terrible war and its horrific absurdity. Maybe Powers himself will be the one to write it...

  29. 5 out of 5

    Giovanna

    4.75 I'm kind of sorry but I'm probably not going to write an english review, because...I can't. I need to talk about it in my native language to try to write something that does (hopefully) make sense. "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. We moved over them and through the tall grass on faith, kneading paths into the windswept growth like pioneers. While we slept, the w 4.75 I'm kind of sorry but I'm probably not going to write an english review, because...I can't. I need to talk about it in my native language to try to write something that does (hopefully) make sense. "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. We moved over them and through the tall grass on faith, kneading paths into the windswept growth like pioneers. While we slept, the war rubbed its thousand ribs against the ground in prayer.” *inspira* *espira* Io non so recensire libri come questo. Mettere tante belle parole in fila, una dopo l'altra, non servirebbe a nulla. Del resto nonostante The yellow birds mi sia piaciuto tanto, nel definirlo bello lo banalizzerei ingiustamente. The yellow birds non è la favola che ti racconti prima di dormire, non è quel libro sulla speranza che cercavi, se lo stavi cercando, e non ti illude. The yellow birds ti dice la verità, pura e semplice, e, come diceva Wilde, la pura e semplice verità non è mai nè pura nè semplice. È cruda. Straziante. È la vita che ti porta in basso, in una caduta inesorabile. È la morte che si prende tutto e tutti, vorace e insaziabile. “You want to fall, that's all. You think it can't go on like that. It's as if your life is a perch on the edge of a cliff and going forward seems impossible, not for a lack of will, but a lack of space. The possibility of another day stands in defiance of the laws of physics. And you can't go back. So you want to fall, let go, give up, but you can't. And every breath you take reminds you of that fact. So it goes.” E The yellow birds non ti racconta la bella storiella sulla guerra, sull'onore e sul coraggio. Ti racconta la guerra, che ti piaccia o no. Non ci sono ideali che tengano. Ci sono solo uomini che vogliono sopravvivere. Che sospirano di sollievo alla fine, perché loro non sono morti. Che ringraziano Dio perché a morire è stato qualcun altro. Che si svuotano. Uomini che alla fine, come tutti, cadono. “To say what happened, the mere facts, the disposition of events in time, would come to seem like a kind of treachery. 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.” Mi rendo conto che questo commento non dice molto, che in realtà non ho detto nulla. Ma se vi ho incuriosito almeno un po'...beh questi sono libri che non si spiegano, ma si leggono e basta.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    There are not many books i have read that have left me initially speechless after finishing. Such was the sheer brutality and beauty of The Yellow Birds it did just that. the story centre's on Private John Bartle's experiences fighting alongside an even younger private Daniel Murphey or Murph as he was known in Al Tafar Iraq. We follow the two Privates right from Murphs joining, to Bartle's promise to ensure he will be ok to his mom, one that will haunt him later on after his return home, the ba There are not many books i have read that have left me initially speechless after finishing. Such was the sheer brutality and beauty of The Yellow Birds it did just that. the story centre's on Private John Bartle's experiences fighting alongside an even younger private Daniel Murphey or Murph as he was known in Al Tafar Iraq. We follow the two Privates right from Murphs joining, to Bartle's promise to ensure he will be ok to his mom, one that will haunt him later on after his return home, the battles that follow and the return home with Bartle a different man. The descriptions of the battles in Iraq are devastatinly compelling and narrated by Bartle show the slow grinding down of a young man from one who wanted to proove he was a man to questioning everything on his return and haunted by the fate of his Friend Murph and Sergeant Sterling. Despite capturing the insanity and sheer mindlessness of war Power's writing turns this into something of beauty and emotion. The books pulls no punches with the reality of the conflict while showing even in the worst of situations love and courage can shine through. I also have a much greater appreciation of the troops of battles both present and of the past and can see why a number are now showing signs of along with pysical injuries of PTSD. The Yellow Birds is an amazing read that had me completing overwhelmed by the complexity of it. Comparisons with the likes of Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet On The Western Front or the poetry of Wifred Owen will follow. Like those pieces of literature is strong in it's anti war sentiment with a fair sprinking of cynisism and unease and hopefully will be talked about in years to come in the same regard.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.