This month I joined Caroline’s Literature and War Readalong of The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers. This novel is about the Iraq war and two buddies who fought together. Private Bartle is 21 when he enlists. Murph is 18. Their Sergeant is only a few years older; however he’s been there before and is a seasoned warrior.
From the beginning you know that something bad has happened to Murph and Bartle is dealing with this loss and guilt. Bartle tells his story and he jumps around in time. One chapter will take place during the war when Murph is still alive and then the following chapter moves forward when Bartle is out of the army and dealing with the trauma of not only fighting in a war, but losing his friend.
At times I felt like I was reading a mystery instead of a war novel. As the story progresses you are given clues as to what happened. And as I devoured the pages I kept feeling more and more unsure if I really wanted to know—how were Bartle and the Sergeant involved in Murph’s death. Yet the intensity of the story and the strength of the writing propelled me to end.
I wasn’t expecting this novel to be so beautifully written. Kevin Powers was a Michener Fellow in Poetry and his words swept me away. On many occasions I found myself rereading passages since I was wowed by their beauty and honesty.
I was disappearing. It was as if I stripped myself away in that darkened bedroom on a spring afternoon, and when I was finished there would be a pile of clothes neatly folded and I would be another number for the cable news shows.
This is Powers first novel and I am curious to see where he goes from here.
While I enjoyed the story, if you are looking for a novel that deals directly with the war, this may not be your cup of tea. The war and battle scenes are described, but the focus of this novel is the friendship between Bartle and Murph. For me, I wasn’t disappointed. This poignant novel gets to the heart of the war: the inhumanity men and women have to endure while fighting for their country and the physical and emotional scars they bring home.
Next month, Caroline has selected The Flowers of War by Geling Yan. Unfortunately my library doesn’t have a copy of the novel, however if you would like to join the group read please visit Caroline’s page.