The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers (pub date 9/11/12)
“Nothing is more isolating than having a particular history. At least that’s what I thought. Now I know: All pain is the same. Only the details are different.”
There have been a great number of novels written about war over the years, but I imagine that very few of them are as visceral and real as this one. Bold and gripping, this book is about the damage battle does to the one who survive.
The Yellow Birds is written by an Iraq War veteran, and tells the story of the friendship between twenty-one-year-old Private John Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Daniel Murphy. Since basic training, when Bartle made an impossible promise to Murphy’s mother to protect her son, the two young men have been like brothers. But as the war progresses and takes its toll on them and on their strict sergeant, Murphy becomes uninvolved with the world around him. And soon Bartle finds himself seeing and doing things he never thought he would have to.
There is more to the plot but I don’t want to give too much away. I went in not knowing much about the story and found myself surprised and moved by how emotional it is. I think other readers should have the same experience I did. The Yellow Birds is more about the effects of battle on the soldiers than it is about the actual war. Author Kevin Powers wrote some incredibly deep passages where Bartle describes the many racing thoughts and emotions that consume him after he is discharged.
Even if you think you don’t like war stories (I usually don’t), I encourage you to give The Yellow Birds a try. It reminded me of the film The Hurt Locker, so if you enjoyed that then you should definitely read this book. It has a great protagonist, beautiful prose, and universal themes that anyone can relate to. I liked that there was no hidden agenda in this novel; it didn’t strike me as either pro-war or anti-war. It simply relates the sometimes devastating effects that combat has on the people who volunteer to serve their country. Sad and thought-provoking, this is a great piece of literary fiction.