The Yellow Birds: A Novel

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That was my emotional experience of the war. The idea of the bird resonated with the core of what I was trying to get at. One of the major themes of The Yellow Birds is the separation between the American public and soldiers fighting overseas, which has dominated much of the Iraq War. If World War II was 'the good war,' and the Korean War 'the forgotten war,' and Vietnam 'the controversial war,' the conflict that began with the attacks of September 11, , and has sent U.

The rest of us contribute nothing. We won't even increase our taxes, even through a surcharge on gasoline to pay for these wars. So we end up asking 1 percent of the country to make the ultimate sacrifice and the other 99 percent to make no sacrifice at all. With regard to the lack of connection between U. In some ways, the dialogue itself is missing. It seems the public conversation has disappeared. There are still soldiers in Afghanistan right now. There might be a wounded soldier as we speak who is feeling his life slipping away from him. Upon Bartle's return from the war, he encounters a patron at an airport bar who wants to buy him a drink and express his gratitude for Bartle's service.

Bartle, however, finds this gesture, like the placement of a yellow ribbon, to be disingenuous and feels guilt when he is congratulated and thanked for his participation in something he sees as immoral. With Bartle's and Murph's pact not to be the 1,th casualty of the war, The Yellow Birds aims to deconstruct the patriotic narratives of the war like the controversies surrounding the death of Pat Tillman , the prisoner of war Jessica Lynch , and the Mission Accomplished Speech given by President George W.

Bartle also contrasts with the image of a masculine, brave soldier and reflects on his need to prove his masculinity as a reason for enlisting in the Army. Percy quotes the novel, writing: "Here we are, fretting over our Netflix queues while halfway around the world people are being blown to bits. What a shame, we say, and then move on quickly to whatever other agonies and entertainments occupy the headlines.

You see, these were books about WAR: I.

Patton Jr. As I read, I discovered that hell looked rather different on the page from the way it did in Hollywood. It was a lot dirtier, for one thing: bloody, visceral, rotten, crawling with lice. How uncanny it must have felt to Murphy, the soldier-turned-actor, to reprise on film a war story that was somehow completely, yet not at all, his own. But the mendacity of war was no secret to Horace or, for that matter, to Homer. But only after the unprecedented horrors of World War I did exposing the old lie become the central project of Anglophone war literature. 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 He h First off, I want to say that the problem with this book is probably with me. 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.

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 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 View all 17 comments. 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.

View all 14 comments. Oct 23, Forrest rated it really liked it. 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. That's what the Army's for. 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. 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.


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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.

The Yellow Birds: A Novel Summary & Study Guide

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. 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.

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 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.

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. 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.

‘The Yellow Birds’: A heart-breaking story of fighting in Iraq — and then coming home

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.

The Yellow Birds: A Novel (Hardcover)

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.

View all 13 comments. Sep 14, Lawyer rated it really liked it Recommends it for: Anyone. Shelves: , 21st-century , iraq-war-part-two , modern-warfare , signed-first-edition. Kevin Powers took it from a traditional marching cadence that's been around a long time. 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.

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. 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 , 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? 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! This has been made into a movie. It will be heart wrenching to watch. 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 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 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 and Iraq in , 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.


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  • 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. 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. Heavy on my heart. Great first novel on a difficult subject. View 2 comments. Nov 15, David Baldacci rated it it was amazing. This fictionalized account of a soldier's time in the Middle East has received critical attention from all corners, and deservedly so. View 1 comment. Jul 20, Tori rated it really liked it Shelves: fiction. 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. 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. Aug 16, Lou rated it it was amazing Shelves: arc. 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.

    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 and , 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. 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. 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.

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    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. 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. 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. It is not enough to say what happened. Everything happened. Everything fell. But none of us had seen this. Oct 05, Larry Bassett rated it really liked it Shelves: war , historical-fiction. 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.

    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. 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. Some of you will not come back with us. Your families will have a distinction beyond all others. A look of great sentimentality came over him. In this case, you find out right away and it foreshadows the tenor of the book.

    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. 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 and As we know from the death notices, war is fought by young people.



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