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405 of 427 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ". . . stories can save us"
Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" is a book that transcends the genre of war fiction. Actually, it transcends the genre of fiction in general. Although labeled "a work of fiction" on the title page, the book really combines aspects of memoir, novel, and short story collection. I think you could use Audre Lorde's term "biomythography" to...
Published on November 11, 2001 by Michael J. Mazza

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109 of 133 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Literary Piece, Not a Vietnam War Memoir Though
Based on the reviews and as a history teacher I approached this book looking for a war memoir wrapped in a literary masterpiece. Our English department has the students read this book around the same time the history department covers the history/politics/etc of the Vietnam War.

The book itself is a literary masterpiece, melding various literary techniques into...
Published on July 13, 2007 by Thomas O. Morrison


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405 of 427 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ". . . stories can save us", November 11, 2001
Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" is a book that transcends the genre of war fiction. Actually, it transcends the genre of fiction in general. Although labeled "a work of fiction" on the title page, the book really combines aspects of memoir, novel, and short story collection. I think you could use Audre Lorde's term "biomythography" to describe this book.
The first-person narrator of this book (named, like the author, Tim O'Brien) is a writer and combat veteran of the Vietnam War. The book actually deals with events before and after the war, in addition to depicting the war itself; the time span covers more than 30 years in the lives of O'Brien and his fellow soldiers.
"The Things They Carried" is an intensely "writerly" text. By that I mean that O'Brien and his characters often reflect directly on the activities of storytelling and writing. As a reader, I got the sense that I was being invited into the very process by which the book was created. This is an extraordinary technique, and O'Brien pulls it off brilliantly.
This being a war story, there are some truly disturbing, graphic, and violent scenes. But there are also scenes that are haunting, funny, surreal, or ironic. O'Brien depicts a memorable group of soldiers: the guilt-wracked Lieut. Cross; Kiowa, a Native American and devout, Bible-carrying Baptist; the sadistic but playful Azar; and more.
While this book is a complete and cohesive work of art, many of its component stories could stand alone as independent pieces of literature (in fact, I first encountered the title story in an anthology). But however you classify it, I consider "The Things They Carried" to be a profoundly moving masterpiece.
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235 of 248 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece, February 8, 2001
By 
Justin Evans (West Wendover, Nevada United States) - See all my reviews
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I was first introduced to this book as part of a U.S. & Vietnam History course in college. The other novel the course required was The Quiet American by Graham Greene. Tim O'Brien's book is every bit as good as Greene's, and all the more timely.
As a former soldier, and a veteran of Desert Storm, whose father avoided the draft during the Vietnam War, the book taught me that no matter what other people say about the war, no matter what I learn, I can never make any value judgements on an individual level. I was not there, and for better or worse, I am only a specator.
I am currently re-reading the book, which I often use in teaching my creative writing class. I share the story-chapter, "Style" every year with my students. I also find the book essential to learn about the nature of fiction, which O'Brien challenges with every page of this book.
For anyone looking for a book to read on the Vietnam experience, this book makes my short list every time. Not only of "Vietnam" books, but of any book worth reading. This book is simply essential.
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188 of 199 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Vietnam Primer for a 1969 baby..., April 2, 2000
I was born in 1969. I missed Vietnam. The war was over and I never knew about it. For an event that had such significance in American history, it was as though it had never happened.
When I was in High School and we studied American History, our class always ended with WWII. We never discussed "modern" events -- the 60s, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement.
When I got to college, I made a point of taking a class on the 60s. Still though, I gained a textbook introduction to the Vietnam war -- I never had a true sense of what the horror was, why people protested, why it was such an important historical event. My generation has never faced a war in which we were drafted to fight.
And then I read "The Things they Carried"...
This book was/is an education for me. Visceral, haunting, provoking, gripping -- the stories Tim O'Brien tells rip into you. He puts you on the front line facing the man you just killed -- on the Canadian border deciding that you aren't brave enough to escape to Canada to avoid the draft -- back in Vietnam watching your best buddy slowly sink into a field of mud as sniper fire rains all around you -- back at home with no sense of purpose surrounded by people who don't know how to welcome you home.
This book is the best education on Vietnam this literal child of the 60s ever received.
If, like me, you don't understand what all the fuss is about, read this book and you will...
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78 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Turns you inside out !, February 29, 2000
I am writing this review about a month or so after having read it. I am a veteran of the Vietnam war and after serving two tours with the U.S. Navy in the Mekong Delta..found this book to be very good at pulling you inside out...taking someone who hasn't been there and transporting you to walk the trails and carry the weight of being a soldier.
Tim O'Brien is an outstanding author, he captures your imagination and doesn't let go until his fasinating stories have drained you of any resistance against reading on till the end. I'm not a big reader and certainly NOT into war books. But this book tells so much more about the characters lives and how they were forever impacted by there experiences. I have recommended to some fellow comrades who also served in the Nam to read it. My own personal experiences still haunt me, the memories and nightmares continue..and reliving some of the experiences though somewhat different...the "feel" of Mr. O'Brien's book, has given me a somehow more settled attitude. I highly recommend that anyone who has either been to war, know's or is related to anyone who served in the Nam or any other war...do yourself a big favor ~ READ THIS BOOK! Don't miss it...it's worth every minute spent.
A real winner!
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Book, April 25, 2002
By 
Crystal West (Tempe, AZ United States) - See all my reviews
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When I first bought this book I decided to flip through it, maybe read the first few pages to get a feel for O'Brien's style and narrative. I ended up reading the first two chapters, and finished the book in just a few days. I chose to read this not because I have any interest in the Vietnam war, but for exactly the opposite reason. I don't know very much about it, which is likely due to the United State's indifference to this `conflict' as it was often called. I'm not generally a big fan of war fiction, or war movies, but there is a certain intensity, a blood and guts reality. These soldiers were without the technology we have today, without `bio weapons', without heat seeking missiles. O'Brien held my attention in his stories of how he and his platoon passed the hours with practical jokes, stories of home, and of course the preoccupation of death as one thinks of the life they are taking to spare their own.
There's a section in the chapter entitled "On the Rainy River" where the author describes what he did during the final months the summer before going off to Vietnam. He had the unfortunate job of working in a meat packing plant, and describes the job with such visceral detail that one can completely understand and even sympathize with his need to run from this awful job. He writes of trying to scrub the smell and grime from his body and clothing. It's entirely repulsive and brilliant.
Though I enjoyed this, and tore thorough it I believe O'Brien gives away too much at times. He writes about writing entirely too much and it distracted me from the stories by pulling me closer to the author. He explains his constructions and takes away some of the mystery and magic of his creation. In one story he writes of how he brought his daughter, Kathleen, to Vietnam many years later so that she might see where her father had been and understand that period of his life. But then O'Brien explains that he doesn't have a daughter, Kathleen, that he took on a trip to Vietnam. There's a recurring `just because it didn't happen doesn't mean that it's any less untrue', and although this idea is original and I understand the concept I believe it was utilized too much and he returns to it excessively. I wasn't so interested in knowing about "How to tell a war story" as I was about reading them.
But brilliant nonetheless. I'll likely read another O'Brien novel
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing, April 23, 2006
There is certainly no shortage of war-related fiction in the world, but Tim O'Brien's masterful story collection "The Things They Carried" quickly sets itself apart as one of the best. The titular story, which opens the collection, is breathtaking and grounded (I first discovered it as an excerpt in "The Best American Short Stories of the Century" and was so intrigued that I had to read the rest). "The Things They Carried" is especially good because it puts an interesting twist on the genre by blending reality and fiction into a mesmerizing combination of compelling action and human nature at work. O'Brien plays with the truth, teasing out the reason behind the writer and then flipping what you thought you knew. He has a firm grip on how -- and why -- people tell stories and uses it well. His description of his compatriots in the war and the behavior they engage in can be shocking but O'Brien's flawless execution keeps them grounded. Each character is well-drawn and well reasoned; even when they do something disturbing you really feel for them because you understand WHY they are acting that way. And if something bad happens to one of them you feel the intense gravity and sorrow of the loss. O'Brien also offers a compelling look at why he became a writer and has some truly inspiring views about the power of fiction -- and storytelling in general.

O'Brien's stories are funny, brutal, uplifting, and shocking (often all on the same page). This collection is a must not just for fans of war literature but for anyone.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truth in Fiction, March 27, 2007
There's little about this book that hasn't been said here, but I'll try.

I first heard about "The Things They Carried" while in college, and I just wasn't interested. War, schmar. I'd seen war movies, and there were plenty of books out there about soldiers and what they do.

Years later and a little older, I'd heard the book mentioned so many times that I had to get it. (How can you say you love English and writing and then, in the same breath, admit you've never read O'Brien's most famous work? Well, you can't.)

There's a lot I like about the book, but these four things in particular put it in with the small stack of books I simply won't part with:

1. His technique. First person all the way through, but unless he makes a point of reminding you that the narrator is talking, you forget. At least, I forgot.

2. The little things that are so huge they can make you cry. For example: the emotionless observation of the baby buffalo; Rat, who puts his soul in a letter to a girl who doesn't write back; the "simple" question of going this way or that way, and what it means to do either.

3. Sometimes, nothing is made more true than when a layer of fiction is applied. I believe you can feel more truth in fiction than you often can in non-fiction, because strict non-fiction has a way of keeping that personal distance between reader and writer. "This is MY story," non-fiction says. "You may have gone through something similar, but this is MINE." O'Brien's fiction invites someone like me, who has never (and likely will never) experience a soldier's war, to see (at least in some small part) war from the point of view of one fighting it. It's not an accounting of a string of events, but a trip into the psyche.

4. This: "Absolute occurrence is irrelevant. A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth" (83).Homefront
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109 of 133 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Literary Piece, Not a Vietnam War Memoir Though, July 13, 2007
By 
Thomas O. Morrison (Ogdensburg, NY United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Based on the reviews and as a history teacher I approached this book looking for a war memoir wrapped in a literary masterpiece. Our English department has the students read this book around the same time the history department covers the history/politics/etc of the Vietnam War.

The book itself is a literary masterpiece, melding various literary techniques into a gripping and compelling read that students and adults will enjoy. In that regard, I'd give it 4.5 stars.

However, from a historical perspective, it fails in my opinion. The stories are gripping, and range from unusual to bizarre and often. Just as he convinces you that it may have happened, he tells you it didn't. The book really doesn't get into a lot of detail of how troops served and suffered in Vietnam, nor does it get into any historical or political significance of the war, nor does it even present a real detailed view of the veterans' tribulations afterwards. In short, this book is more a literary work designed for interesting reading than for any deep discussion of the Vietnam War. If you approach this book looking for a war memoir, skip it. On that note, I'd rate it a 0 or a 1. I'll compromise and rate it a 3 overall.

From a teaching perspective, the ease of reading, the smooth literary skills, and the wild stories all make this book a great entry for students thinking about the Vietnam War. They come into history class with lots of questions after reading this book and it opens up a lot of great discussion and teaching opportunities. Well worth reading as an introduction to Vietnam but people with an existing and/or deep knowledge of the military history of the Vietnam War need to know that the War takes a back seat to the literary storytelling exercise this book is.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I feel like I've been to war, March 18, 2004
By 
C. Ellen Connally (Cleveland, Ohio USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Things They Carried (Audio CD)
I missed being a soldier in Viet Nam by an accident of birth, I was born female. My male classmates in college and law school were shipped off or found ways to avoid the draft. Some went to Canada and one, someone I recently met, went to prison. Had I been a male I'm sure that I would have thought I had to do my duty.
So never having gone to war it's hard to imagine how it would really be. Tim O'Brien brings it home in THE THINGS THEY CARRIED. I listened to the audio version and the narrator was excellent. Had I attempted to book, I'm not sure that I would have made it through.
Listening to the recording is a moving experience. I've always wanted to go to Viet Nam. After listening to the tape I'm more convinced than ever that I want to go. I want to experience the country. Certainly it will never be like it was for the men who went there during the war.
As a single black woman of 59 I often think that the husband that I should have married lost his life in Viet Nam. The war killed of a generation of black men, both physically and mentally. A guy that I used to date is still alive but he lost his soul there. Listening to this tape made me understand the Viet Nam experience in a heart wrenching manner.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Must-Read Book, May 21, 2003
By 
Brkat (Southeast, USA) - See all my reviews
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Wow! This is a big time heavy hitter that packs a real wallop. Rare is that person who will not be emotionally affected by this book.

"The Things They Carried" is not so much a book about the Vietnam War as it is about the people caught within the context of that war. The chapers entitled "On The Rainy River", "Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong" and "The Man I Killed" are standouts that stopped me cold and caused me to reflect and reread them before proceeding on. Those readers who have lived through the Vietnam War era will appreciate how well Tim O'Brien captures the multiple personal experiences/impacts of that time.

Pathos is a word best captured by this Tim O'Brien's brilliantly written novel. Read and experience it for yourself and you will understand why so many reviewers give it their highest recommendation.
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The Things They Carried
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien (Paperback - October 13, 2009)
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