Wednesday, June 12, 2013

yellow birds

This is the first book by Kevin Powers, who was stationed in Iraq during the second war there, about 10 years ago. Powers has written about what it was like to be there by creating a story of one man's struggle to fight the war, fulfill his patriotic duty, deal with the fog of war, try not to get killed, and do his best to help make sure he also brought his brothers-in-arms home as well. I don't think its a spoiler to say that not all of these things can be accomplished by one man.

The Yellow Birds is told first-person by a private in the American army, fighting in and around a small valley in Iraq* over the course of about one year. This narrative is interspersed with a second narrative of what it was like to be home afterward, dealing with the stress of trying to normalize, and deal with what he and his compatriots had done during the conflict.

Powers is a poet, and his language sings this story of struggle, friendship, duty, and horror; sings to us so prettily, that we can almost overlook the pain, boredom, fear, and stupidity of war, for small moments, then the very language brings us back, dials us in to the story in a way that seems so visceral, that parts of it seem to come alive from inside us, as readers.

The Yellow Birds is a story of a journey one man has to make outside himself, outside what he knows, to where he doesn't want to go, and from which he doesn't know the way home. That journey still goes on when re returns stateside, and like many soldiers, it continues today. Its a story Powers clearly wants us to see from the inside, and I have no idea what war is like, I have a feeling that Powers has given me a peek.

Read this book.

And then keep it around; your kids will need it when it gets assigned in schools.

* Powers uses the name Al Tafar, Nineveh Province, Iraq.  Nineveh Province is in the northwest, where Mosul is located. I don't think there is such a place as Al Tafar, but on the map I see place called Tal Afar, which is green(ish) and has a small river running through it, about 50 km west of Mosul.

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