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The Yellow Birds: A Novel Hardcover – September 11, 2012
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, Debut Spotlight, September 2012: With The Yellow Birds, Kevin Powers introduces himself as a writer of prodigious talent and ambition. The novel opens in 2004, when two soldiers, 21-year-old Bartle and the teenaged Murphy, meet in boot camp on the eve of their deployment to Iraq. Bartle, bound by a promise to Murphy's mother to guide him home safely, takes the young private under his wing as they move through the bloody conflict that "rubbed its thousand ribs against the ground in prayer." Powers, an Iraq veteran, eyes the casual violence of war with a poet's precision but without romanticism, moving confidently between scenes of blunt atrocity and almost hallucinatory detachment with Hemingway-like economy and prose that shimmers like desert heat. Compact and emotionally intense, The Yellow Birds joins a maturing and impressive collection of Iraq War literature--both memoir and fiction--that includes Brian Castner's The Long Walk and Ben Fountain's Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. --Jon Foro
"A remarkable first novel...The Yellow Birds is brilliantly observed and deeply affecting: at once a freshly imagined bildungsroman about a soldier's coming of age, a harrowing story about the friendship of two young men trying to stay alive on the battlefield in Iraq, and a philosophical parable about the loss of innocence and the uses of memory...Extraordinary."―Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"The Yellow Birds might just be the first American literary masterpiece produced by the Iraq war."―Los Angeles Times
"An elegiac, sober, and haunting coming-of-age war story."―TIME
"The first great Iraq War novel."―Darren Reidy, Rolling Stone
"A first novel as compact and powerful as a footlocker full of ammo....Kevin Powers has something to say, something deeply moving about the frailty of man and the brutality of war, and we should all lean closer and listen."―Benjamin Percy, New York Times Book Review
"An exquisite excavation of the war's moral and psychological wreckage. Powers evokes the peculiar smell and feel of the war better than any journalist."―The New Yorker
"Darkly beautiful....How to tell a true war story if you're more a poet than a novelist? Tell it as a poet would. Tell it as Kevin Powers does."―Alan Cheuse, NPR's All Things Considered
"A novel of grit, grace, and blood by an Iraq war veteran....Kevin Powers moves gracefully between spare, factual description of the soldiers' work to simple, hard-won reflections on the meaning of war."―Ron Charles, Washington Post
"An unusually spare and lyrical war story....The characters are sketched with as much heart as economy...Like the Iraq heat, which 'had the surprising effect of reducing one to tears in an instant,' The Yellow Birds skulks along, detached and undemanding, until all of a sudden you turn a page and find yourself weeping."―GQ
"The All Quiet on the Western Front of America's Arab wars."―Tom Wolfe
"The Yellow Birds is harrowing, inexplicably beautiful, and utterly, urgently necessary."―Ann Patchett
"Veteran Kevin Powers's searing debut novel brings the Iraq War home in compelling detail....The Yellow Birds is luminous...an indispensable portrait of the Iraq War and its impact of those who fought it."―Men's Journal
"Kevin Powers' The Yellow Birds is written with an intensity which is deeply compelling; every moment, every memory, every object, every move, are conjured up with a fierce and exact concentration and sense of truth."―Colm Toibin
"This is a novel I've been waiting for. The Yellow Birds is born from experience and rendered with compassion and intelligence."―Alice Sebold
"Compelling, brilliantly written, and heart-breakingly true, The Yellow Birds belongs in the same category as Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried and Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead. Thus far the definitive novel of our long wars in the Middle East; this book is certain to be read and taught for generations to come."―Philipp Meyer, author of American Rust
"Reading The Yellow Birds I became certain that I was in the presence of a text that will win plaudits, become a classic, and hold future narratives of the war to a higher standard....a superb literary achievement."―Chris Cleave
"Powers has created a powerful work of art that captures the complexity and life altering realities of combat service. This book will endure. Read it and then put it way up on that high rare shelf alongside Ernest Hemingway and Tim O'Brien."―Anthony Swofford
"We haven't just been waiting for a great novel to come out of the Iraq War, our 21st century Vietnam; we have also been waiting for something more important, a work of art that illuminates our flawed and complex and striving humanity behind all such wars. At last we have both in Kevin Powers' The Yellow Birds."―Robert Olen Butler
"A classic....Powers's first novel is full of boys, bile, bark, bodies and bewilderment....shows Powers's power to build suspense with substance and sensitivity."--Military Times
"Every sentence of The Yellow Birds is something to marvel over, the words flashing and chiming like spent brass casings. Kevin Powers, who served as an Army machine gunner, has written one of the best books of the year, what could become the definitive novel about Iraq."--Benjamin Percy, Esquire
"In the great tradition of Hemingway and Tim O'Brien, Kevin Powers's exquisitely written The Yellow Birds draws us in to the combat zones of Iraq: the watch, the wait ("Stay alive, Stay alert"), the bungle, the slaughter, and the irreparable aftermath."―Edna O'Brien
"Remarkable for its intensity of both feeling and expression. In this book about death, every line is a defiant assertion of the power of beauty to revivify, whether beauty shows itself in nature or (later) in art. Graves, Owen, and Sassoon would have recognised this war and the strange poetry it has bred."―Hilary Mantel
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Top Customer Reviews
It started nicely, poetically, a bit oddly muted and muddled. Less than a quarter of the way through I was beginning to feel like there was a bait and switch going on. The characters, the story, the scenes, the writing… I wasn’t connecting. And I really wanted to. Like Mr. Powers, I’m a poet and a novelist, so I know the skills he’s bringing to bear here. I get his writing, his writing style, and I can appreciate it for what he was trying to do.
First, I didn’t connect to the characters (and there are only *three* of them). They read undeveloped to me. I wasn’t feeling who they are, so I wasn’t caring for them very much as they were going through their “story.”
Which brings us to problem number 2: there’s not much story here. We have 11 chapters, alternating in time and space, over 226 pages. It is a short novel. Told in a first person point of view, the narrator wedges in bits of his memories from the fields and odd encounters with the enemy in Iraq and then back to his return and trying to “fit in” in his home town in Virginia. But he feels out of place. And I do, too, as a reader.
Another problem for me was the scenes in the book. The scenes the narrator was describing did not make me feel as if I were there with him experiencing the events in his story. Mr. Powers’ gift with language was his weakness, too, because it felt sometimes like Mr. Powers, the writer, was getting in the way of Private Bartle, the storyteller.
There was some nice writing, sure. But there was a lot of writing that just rambled, for no apparent reason. And sometimes at the strangest moments, so much so that it felt like Powers had to reel himself back in from his own tangents. I have no problem with stream-of-consciousness writing, but the stream should lead somewhere. At other times the language (similes, metaphors, ramblings) Powers uses just gets in the way because of its strangeness. I mean, there was writing I stumbled over--that, really, just stopped the book for me. For example: “Clouds spread out over the Atlantic like soiled linens on an unmade bed” (p. 99). My first thought when I read this was: Huh? I had to re-read it. And not for pleasure. Because my next thought was: Ewww. And using Vonnegut’s “So it goes” (p. 135). I almost set the book aside when I read that because I thought: He really just re-used *that* line? And: “We trickled out into the city like water rung from a mop” (p. 194). What? “from a mop”? Writing should draw me into the novel and make me experience what the characters are experiencing, not make me look up and think: “What the hell?”
There are also some bits that seem really disjointed (as other reviewers have pointed out), as if the text was in need of a good editor: birds flying out of an orchard that’s just been shelled to pieces; a woman standing motionless for hours—hours!—upon hearing of her son’s death; dark night suddenly becoming the dawn.
Finally, for me, the story felt strangely heartless, oddly soulless. I was hoping (intending) to finish the book with a better understanding—a better feeling—of war. A character spent a page describing his experience of war (like the moment suspended before a car accident), but I felt none of that while reading this book. Instead, the book felt rushed and undone, incoherent and incomplete. I wanted to know more because, at the end of it all, at the reveal of the “big, traumatic event,” I felt robbed of knowing. I felt the author owed me more. And I felt cheated out of what should have been a good novel, if not a great novel, about the *experience* of our most modern war.
“Did not like it”
2 stars Amazon
1 star Goodreads
Having said this, the novel has two positive points. The author does make great use of imagery. There is a sense of the oppressiveness of combat situations to the vastness of civilian society with the wonder, isolation and confusion that comes with it. Additionally, this novel is a good coming of age of novel. The reader is able to see how the protagonist makes sense out of life. His journey of self-discovery is simply against the context of war. The coming of age perspective is my recommendation for approaching "Yellow Birds". It does justice to both the book and the military experience.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
When I began to read this book it was a struggle for me personally to get into because I was hoping for an intense grabber that would suck me...Read more