This is a superb, moving and insightful book about war and its effects on the men and women who take part in it. The author, Kevin Powers, is a veteran of Iraq in 2004 where this book is set and is now a poet. This combination of first-hand experience and ability with language coupled with great insight and honesty creates something quite remarkable.
The book is narrated in the first person by private John Bartle on his first tour of duty in Iraq. The language is heightened throughout, often poetic and sometimes almost hallucinatory. The timescale moves between his time in Iraq, his pre-tour training and his homecoming and after. The story is really that of Bartle's psychological journey and is quite stunning in its evocation of the war itself and of the state of mind of the young man who went through it. It is deceptively quiet in tone with even the violent action (of which there is relatively little) described without hysteria, and this lends it a remarkable power to convey things like fear, exhaustion, the rush of excitement and the dreadful problems of reintegrating once home.
All this may sound forbidding, turgid or preachy but it isn't at all. This is an engrossing, readable book which is quite short but has immense impact and which will stay with me for a very long time. I think this genuinely belongs among great war books such as All Quiet On the Western Front and Dispatches. I could give a long list of examples of how thoughtful, insightful and honest it is, but I will just say that I recommend that you read it. It is truly exceptional and you will never forget it.
This is not a pretty story. It's stark, harsh, filled with horror, and made me, honestly, want to yell and scream at someone - anyone. And the thing is, I think that's the emotions it was supposed to evoke in me.
In The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, in less than 250 pages, we're taken on a journey. A journey to war - in all it's brutal, killing glory. This is a story about two Privates - each with their own path in life and death, and the hell each will leave as their legacy.
I honestly don't know how to review this book. As far as a review goes, let me just say that this is a seriously depressing book. It's about war, and it does not paint a pretty picture. There's no soldier playing guitar for a bunch of little refugee kids here. There's no parties, no laughter, no fun and games behind the lines as everyone tries to ease up on the stress level. This is what happens when hope has been not just taken away, but stomped under the feet of a commanding officer and then forced into the rotting guts of a dead enemy. Get the picture? I hope so - because I kind of wish I'd had someone to pound that into me.
After reading The Yellow Birds I was in a stupor for the rest of the day... on into the next day. There was an analogy Kevin Powers talked about - how rushing into battle is like that moment before you collide with another car in an accident. There's that same feeling of helplessness - the knowing that you may very well die in a mere second. I had a horrific accident almost one year ago - a driver pulled out in front of me, running his stop sign, and I collided with him. I was going 52 mph. That moment before impact felt like years, and in those years I had a thousand (at least) thoughts run through my head. But first and foremost? I didn't want to die. I wasn't ready.Read more ›
Operation Iraqi Freedom wasn't one war, it was three.
The first war was from the initial invasion until about 2005-2006. This was the time when we were still figuring out how this whole war thing was supposed to be fought. It was when we ran patrols in soft-skinned Hummers and ran over IEDs that killed entire crews. We didn't have the right equipment. We didn't know the right tactics. We did the wrong things. We abused prisoners. We made mistakes. We holed up in FOBs and went out to do... well, shows of force while the big heads in the Green Zone rewrote Iraqi traffic laws. This is the time span in which the book takes place.
The second war was the surge which lasted from 2006 until about 2009. This was when we poured money into the clear-hold-build strategy. This strategy started to work, especially when the Sons of Iraq were formed and we worked hand-in-hand with the Iraqis as they started to figure out that they had a stake in this after all. We fought smarter and had better equipment. This was when Iran started pumping EFPs into the bombmaker's arsenals, but it's also when we really pushed to counter the bombs and the bombmakers. This was the war of The Hurt Locker.
The third war was from 2009 until 2011 as we closed bases and started to pull out. This was the long kiss goodnight as we packed up and left and let the Iraqis do most of the fighting. This was the war of the Fobbits - the soldiers who never left the FOB and consumed ice cream, attended Salsa Night and toured Saddam's Palaces.
Everybody's experience is different. Mine was from 2008 - 2009 some of it as a Fobbit, and some of it running convoys.Read more ›