The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

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.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American living in England. When she isn’t writing, she’s traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs, or reading. Not necessarily in that order.
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16 Responses to The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

  1. jmgoyder says:

    Thanks for this review!

  2. Caroline says:

    I really agree but I think it’s importnat one reads this with a warning. THis novel has been sold as THE novel on the war in Iraq. That’s not doing it justice and I can understand that the one or the other perosn feels mislead. However I think it’s beautifully written. I alos agree that it has elemenst of a msytery which worked well too. What an awful end. That made me swallow hard, especially after the lyrical passages. I’m glad I’ve read it. I like how there are so many different ways to write about war. And I like novels about friendships. This a very beautiful and very tragic story.
    Thanks so much for joining.

    • TBM says:

      The warning is important, this novel didn’t shed any light on that actual war for me. I felt the pain and suffering of the characters, but if they say this is the definitive novel on the Iraq war I would have to disagree. Saying that, I can’t really comprehend how someone can write the definitive novel on any war. So many opinions, fronts, battles, and individuals–where would one begin and stop. I think it’s important to view this as a slice of the war and that other novels and books can fill in gaps and taken all together maybe it becomes clearer. War is such a difficult subject to cover, in my opinion.

      • Caroline says:

        I was just wondering how someone, reading this in 20 – 30 years would feel about this. How much would he/she understand. We have a lot of background infor on this war, we can fill in the gaps. That’s why it’s not so much a novel on the war in Iraq as a novel on war, I think it’s OK, I just think people who read this now also want more answers. Tony mentioned in his review he didn’t understand that Blackwater wasn’t mentioned.

      • TBM says:

        I totally understand that. And if you aren’t familiar with the names of the places, it could easily be mistaken for other wars in the area–at least I think so. Parts of it feel generic. My interest in history is how the everyday person coped. This novel fits in perfectly. However, I wasn’t aware before I started reading this novel that it was The Novel on the war. I’m just curious, do you know about other novels from this war? I would like to read it to compare. And for some reason it kept reminding me of All Quiet on the Western Front, however it has been years since I read that. Maybe it was the friendship aspect. I should reread that one soon for my 1001 project and to try to figure out why I kept thinking of it while reading this one.

  3. Pingback: Kevin Powers: The Yellow Birds (2012) Literature and War Readalong January 2013 « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

  4. mairedubhtx says:

    I liked your review. Usually war stories are difficult for me but this sounds like a story of a relationship set around a war, and I think I could handle it. Thanks for the review.

    • TBM says:

      There still are scenes that are brutal, but this is one of the easier war novels I’ve read. The writing is beautiful and it felt like a mystery novel.

  5. Thanks so much for this! I want to do a post like this!! X

  6. Jo Bryant says:

    It sounds like I might enjoy this one…

  7. Caroline says:

    Susanna, in the comments on my blog mentions a few books (I can’t remember the titles just now). It puzzled me she came up with any as it was said this is the first novel to come out of this war… Blurbs.
    It didn’t remind me of All quiet at all, although that is on the blurb too. Now at least what aspect the perosn who wrote the blurb had in mind. Those comparisons on book covers aren’t doing books much good.

    • TBM says:

      It has been years since I read All quiet so I can’t really say why i thought of it. I do think it’s because of the friendship. I plan on rereading All Quiet soon so I can see if my feeling was correct or not. I don’t want to imply to others that if you liked All quiet you’ll love this. I didn’t see the blurb mentioning All quiet. My copy had so many blurbs that I stopped reading them. Usually when I expect too much I end up being disappointed. I’ll check out Susanna’s comment for suggestions. I’m not a huge fan of comparisons. I don’t want to read someone that’s like Stephen King or Anne Rice. I want authors to be who they are and not trying to “fit into” a genre. I usually stay clear when I hear of comparisons. I went into this experience almost blind. I just knew it was about Iraq and you were hosting the group read. That’s all I needed.

  8. petit4chocolatier says:

    This sounds beautiful! Love your summaries : )

  9. i will put this book on my list. i may even bump it to the top.

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