Sunday, July 28, 2013

Kevin Powers' The Yellow Birds

"Thank you for your service" is a common phrase, a well-intentioned but superficial greeting, which skates over the surface of complexity. Kevin Powers' novel The Yellow Birds shows how sometimes it is unwelcome precisely because of the superficiality. Private Bartle is the narrator, and he is fighting in Iraq with Private Murphy. It is the powerful story of their efforts to figure out what their proper place should be--what "service" even means--just to stay alive long enough to get home.

It is a tragedy because no one figures it out, not even the hard-nosed sergeant who helps keep everyone alive with his uncompromising focus on safety. Not Bartle, not Murphy, not their parents, and certainly not Iraqis, who hunker down in the middle of devastation. The soldiers fight for the same bit of territory over and over, and nothing much changes. The war itself served no purpose. As the sergeant said toward the end of the novel, more or less to himself, "Fuck 'em, man. Fuck everyone on earth."

Powers writes beautifully. From the reviews I've skimmed the main criticism seems to be his style, which is self-conscious with its poetic metaphors and descriptions. Some find it overdone and derivative (though I bet every war novel is criticized somewhere for being derivative of Ernest Hemingway) but I thought it effectively dug under the surface. He doesn't want to just lay out facts about how the war was fought--you can find that anywhere. He wants to get you into the head of the so-young soldiers while they're there.

I recommend it very highly.


suggested Dallas Divorce Lawyer Engle Law Group 5:05 AM  

This was a beautifully written novel on a very difficult subject, namely PTSD. The author, who himself is an Iraq war veteran captures the horrors of war and the alienation of the soldiers from society when they come back from war in a poetic prose.

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