“Sure, there is a fine line between not wanting to wake up and actually wanting to kill yourself, and while I discovered you can walk that line for a long while without even noticing, anybody who is around you surely will, and then of course all kinds of unanswerable questions will not be far behind.” –The Yellow Birds
Set during the recent Iraq War, this novel by Kevin Powers follows the story of Private John Bartle and Private Daniel Murphy as they embark on a journey into the wilderness of the atrocities of the human spirit. Though these men try to resist being broken by the arms of war, it turns out to be much more difficult than they naively believe it will be as young men of twenty-one and eighteen, respectively, at the beginning of their training with the Army when Bartle promises Murphy’s mother that no harm will come to her son. Set in the Al Tafar Province in Iraq in 2004 and Richmond, Virginia in 2005, all the way to Fort Knox in 2009, Powers takes us through the ever-changing sea of emotions, choices, and hardships of an American GI during one of our most recent International conflicts. Through his beautiful storytelling, we are able to learn about the experiences of war, feel the loss for those back home, and savour every moment of survival with the characters as they try their best to not allow the war to completely steal their worn-down spirits, or ultimately, their lives.
The Yellow Birds is a tragic yet thought-provoking novel of camaraderie, sacrifice, and the lies of war that will leave you mourning the loss of innocence and grieving for those who are so often left behind during the trying times of conflict.
An additional comment about the book from someone very special to me.
I was finally able to sit down and read the Kevin Powers novel. It was a riveting read that I consumed in one sitting. It was obvious that he had been describing much of the theme from personal experiences. It brought back memories. After reading it you probably had a glimpse of understanding as to why those who fought for this country never talk about their experiences when they get home. There are so many dynamics of war that the ordinary citizen would never understand even in the most descriptive terms. Smells, fear, wetting your pants and losing bowel control, sheer terror that most people would never face in an entire life time; destruction of life, the decaying of bodies, the watching of life seep away, human body parts, blood and guts all over the place. The collecting of ears, eyes, genitals etc., as souvenirs or rituals. When asked by a civilian, there is just nothing to tell or say. It is savagery at the fullest extent. A good example in the book was when John Bartles mother asked him “what went on over there in Iraq?” He responded by saying, “Nothing mom. You wouldn’t understand,” and then went outside. Where would he have begun to explain? When the Viet Nam War took place our nation was totally against us being there. They demonstrated in the streets in front of the White House, at the Capitol, at military bases, and college campuses across the country. When we came home, we were not greeted with “Welcome home Hero.” We were spat at, had rocks, eggs, tomatoes etc., thrown at us. We came home in disgrace. We were told not to wear our uniforms off base. It was a bad time in America. We never spoke about our duty or service. There was no avenue for release. They didn’t even know about PTSD. You were just categorized as a head case if you suffered emotionally. The defoliant “Agent Orange killed as many troops later in life as the NVA did during the war. We were embarrassed to let people know that we were in the military because it was a shameful time for America. If we told someone that we served we were ridiculed or worse. Not like today.
It was a good book for explaining the horrors of war. He did a great job with detail and explanation. Like the explanation to the embedded reporter who asked what was the fear and anticipation like when going into battle and anticipating a fire fight. Murph said it was like that split second that you were getting into a car accident, totally out of control with nothing you could do to stop it except the fire fight might magnify that split second into an entire day. He nailed it with that comment. Every time a battle was brewing, that out of control fear encompassed your entire body until you started acting on instinct. Then time stood still until the next lull.
Thank you for sharing the book with me. I enjoyed it very much. I appreciated the opportunity of having the privilege of reading something that you read as well.