Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Yellow Birds - Kevin Powers (Audio)

About two and a half years ago, I picked up the novel that defined Vietnam, "The Things They Carried", and it ended up being one of my favorite reads that year.  The book was powerful, visceral, and traveled into the dark recesses of a soldier's soul.  I will never know what it was like to fight in that war and return home, but this book gets you in the neighborhood.  It left me feeling humbled, and in awe of these young men who fought for our country.

In many reviews, this book has been compared to "The Things They Carried", except that it addressed the issues experienced in Iraq.  I feel like I have spent most of my adult life knowing we have our troops over there, so I felt like it was my duty to read this.

Synopsis:  21 year-old Private John Bartle has recently signed on for his first tour of duty in Iraq, much to his mother's distress.  He meets 18 year-old Private Murphy in basic training, bonds with the young man, and impulsively promises Murphy's mother that he will bring her boy safely back home.  The two men go on to experience everything Iraq has to offer...the heat, the exhaustion, the bloodshed, the shocking surprise attacks and violent death all around them.  Slowly Murphy becomes unhinged, and Bartle wonders how he will ever make good on the promise that he made.  

Once Bartle returns home, another battle must be fought...the fight to rejoin the human race and suppress the demons in his head and heart.  Unfortunately those demons come in many forms, and they not be done with him yet.

My thoughts:  Let me start with some easy observations that I made.  The writing is phenomenal.  The author is a veteran so he brings with him all the gritty experience that makes this novel feel so real, complete with a naive bravado of a young man trying to do his manly duty.  But the prose is also very poetic as well.  It is mesmerizing almost.

Beyond that however, I wander in murky territory.  First just let me say that I KNOW what these soldiers are facing over there and what they are facing once they return.  I've talked to enough people, seen enough interviews or movies, read enough articles to know.  I do not have blinders on.  Still.  I felt nauseated for most of this audio book.  Maybe it is because I have a son?  Who is the type of kid who might just decide to up and join the Marines or Army?  The mess that these boys, barely adults, were wandering into made me ill.  The confusion, the violence, the corruption, the mental stress and anguish...this is not something I would wish on any mother's son.  The book made me angry and scared and sick.  I suppose that was the intent, but it was not enjoyable.  The whole thing kind of put me into a funk for a day or two.  Just be warned.  

So while I would definitely re-read "The Things They Carried", I'm not sure I could say the same for this one.  It is hard for me to pinpoint WHY...I've thought about it for some time.  There is just a different feel here in this one.  More in-your-face, more personal, and much darker.  

A few words about the audio production:  Our narrator was Holfer Graham, a new voice for me, but one I will probably run across again based on his wide array of audio books.  He was a good choice for this novel because he has that war-torn, jagged feel to his voice that conveys an emotion that you would expect from a soldier. 

Audio book length:  5 hours and 23 minutes (240 pages)

4 out of 5 stars
         

12 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I agree - in theory that is - I don't want to read this one! i.e., I'm scared to!

Julie P. said...

Totally agree with your review. This book was almost haunting and at times I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach. I wonder if listening to it made it even more gut-wrenching and more real. Does that make sense?

Ti said...

Sounds like the type of experience you only live through once. I am always surprised by how many times these guys go back for another tour of duty (by choice!

All three of my nephews are in the military and they keep signing up for more, because of the bonuses they get and they all have families, pregnant wives with little bitty babies. It seems that this generation has the ability to tune it out while there, but then when they come home, the damage is evident.

Jackie Bailey said...

I agree that this felt weak in comparison to 'The Things They Carried' Yes, it was powerful, emotional etc, but it felt too much like a clone of 'The Things They Carried' to really impress me.

Zibilee said...

I just finished Abide with Me, which is a loose retelling of Wuthering Heights, and one of the characters was an veteran who fought in Afghanistan. There were a lot of flashbacks, and they were brutal as well. It made me very humbled to think about what our boys were doing over there, and still are. I am not sure I would read this, but in a way, not reading it would be like sticking my head in the sand, so I am torn. Your reaction sticks to me though.

Serena said...

Looks like we both rated this similarly. I did not have that visceral reaction that you did.

The comparison to The Things They Carried is unfair I think to Powers, who is creating a different experience than the one created by O'Brien, but that's just my two cents.

Tasha B. said...

I haven't read this one, but from your review I'd speculate that The Things They Carried had a more universal message? I read that book in high school and I still think about it. Like that line about war being long stretches of boredom punctuated by moments sheer terror. A lot of things in life are like that.

Anna said...

Sounds like a hard book to read, but also an important one. I just have to pick this one up at the library...and then make time to read it!

Heather @ Book Addiction said...

I've been staying away from this one because of my brother. He spent a year in Afghanistan and I honestly don't want to think about what he experienced there. Like you said, I KNOW what the facts are. But this book? That would be a whole different situation from just knowing the facts, and I'm not sure I can do that to my brain and my heart.

Jenny said...

I think I probably had more of an emotional disconnect from this one since I don't have any personal connections to active military right now so I see where that could be hard. I really enjoyed Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (which I have YET to review) and that one is more of a satire so maybe you'd like that one!

Jenners said...

This is on my list of books I've gotta read but I've been avoiding it because I know it won't be an easy read. Maybe I'll do it on audio. I listened to that narrator before and liked him a lot.

Melissa said...

I feel like I need to read this one too. My brother served in Afghanistan and I feel like I owe him to really know what things are like over there.