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The Yellow Birds: A Novel Paperback – April 30, 2013
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A novel written by a veteran of the war in Iraq The Yellow Birds is the harrowing story of two young soldiers trying to stay alive In Iraq 21-year old Private Bartle and 18-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city The two have been dropped into a war neither is prepared for
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Some might compare it to other war-themed books: The Naked and the Dead, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Things They Carried, or even A Separate Peace. They would, in my opinion, be misguided.
This is not the quintessential book about the Iraqi War, even though the settings are mainly the battlefield of Iraq and "home", in this case, Richmond, Virginia. Rather, it is a book about all wars and all situations that force us to live with becoming less than human.
What happens, Kevin Powers postulates, when youngsters - barely out of their teens - must go against everything they've been taught as moral? Is there "any making up for killing women or even watching women get killed, or for that matter killing men and shooting them in the back and shooting them more times than necessary to kill everything you saw sometimes because it felt like there was acid seeping down into your soul and then your soul is gone..."
This is a book about those who became unaware "of even our own savagery now: the beatings and the kicked dogs, the searches and the sheer brutality of our presence." It is about the promise that one boy - John Bartle -- makes to another boy's mother that he cannot possibly keep. It is about someone who cannot return to the ordinary despite his most fervent wishes: "If I could not forget, then I'd hope to be forgotten."
And most of all, it's about young men who should be in the height of life who are forced to be on intimate knowledge with death: "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."
None of the quotes I used reflect the pure elegiac beauty of the prose, beginning with the first line: `The war tried to kill us in the spring." The war could be any war or anything that creates detachment and devalues human life. "The world makes liars of us all," Kevin Powers writes at one point. Yet in this magnificent prose, the truth shines through.
Read this book. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is very real. It is subtle as the human mind, and powerful as the human spirit. It affects warriors and their loved ones, including ancestors and descendants. If a man or woman ever fully recovers from it, their children and grandchildren must still deal with its aftereffects.
Kevin Powers brings poetry and grace to his novel of horror in Iraq. He has found a measure of hope, for the writing itself is a healing, hopeful gesture. But he is no romantic. There is nothing beautiful about war, and not much good can be expected of it.
I have already recommended this book to several Veterans of my acquaintance and will recommend it to anyone who has suffered the trauma of war and wonders what hit them. To those who have been there, and to their children to the third and fourth generation.
Private Bartle speaking of trying to cope with everyday existence back home:
"You want to fall, that's all. You think it can't go on like that. It's as if your life is a perch on the edge of a cliff and going forward seems impossible, not for a lack of will, but a lack of space. The possibility of another day stands in defiance of the laws of physics. And you can't go back. So you want to fall, let go, give up, but you can't. And every breath you take reminds you of that fact. So it goes."
The last sentence likely a tribute to the classic war novel, "Slaughterhouse-Five."
I hope we see more from such a talent as Kevin Powers.
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