The Yellow Birds

The Yellow Birds

4.0 85
by Kevin Powers
     
 

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A novel written by a veteran of the war in Iraq, The Yellow Birds is the harrowing story of two young soldiers trying to stay alive.

"The war tried to kill us in the spring." So begins this powerful account of friendship and loss. In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their

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Overview

A novel written by a veteran of the war in Iraq, The Yellow Birds is the harrowing story of two young soldiers trying to stay alive.

"The war tried to kill us in the spring." So begins this powerful account of friendship and loss. In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city. Bound together since basic training when Bartle makes a promise to bring Murphy safely home, the two have been dropped into a war neither is prepared for.

In the endless days that follow, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that press in on every side: the insurgents, physical fatigue, and the mental stress that comes from constant danger. As reality begins to blur into a hazy nightmare, Murphy becomes increasingly unmoored from the world around him and Bartle takes actions he could never have imagined.

With profound emotional insight, especially into the effects of a hidden war on mothers and families at home, The Yellow Birds is a groundbreaking novel that is destined to become a classic.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
…a remarkable first novel, one that stands with Tim O'Brien's enduring Vietnam book, The Things They Carried, as a classic of contemporary war fiction. The Yellow Birds is brilliantly observed and deeply affecting: at once a freshly imagined story about a soldier's coming of age, a harrowing tale 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. Its depiction of war has the surreal kick of Mr. O'Brien's 1978 novel, Going After Cacciato, and a poetic pointillism distinctly its own; they combine to sear images into the reader's mind with unusual power.
—Michiko Kakutani
The Washington Post
Throughout The Yellow Birds, amid the gore and the terror and the boredom, you can hear notes of Powers's work as a poet…More than a little of that rich language would risk turning the novel florid, but Powers rarely oversteps. In the best sections, he moves gracefully between spare, factual description of the soldiers' work to simple, hard-won reflections on the meaning of war…His lacerating honesty never feels false or fails to shock…
—Ron Charles
The New York Times Book Review
…a first novel as compact and powerful as a footlocker full of ammo…the fractured structure replicates the book's themes. Like a chase scene made up of sentences that run on and on and ultimately leave readers breathless, or like a concert description that stops and starts, that swings and sways, that makes us stamp our feet and clap our hands—the nonlinear design of Powers's novel is a beautifully brutal example of style matching content. War destroys. It doesn't just rip through bone and muscle, stone and steel; it fragments the mind as a fist to a mirror might create thousands of bloodied, glittering shards…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
Publishers Weekly
This moving debut from Powers (a former Army machine gunner) is a study of combat, guilt, and friendship forged under fire. Pvt. John Bartle, 21, and Pvt. Daniel Murphy, 18, meet at Fort Dix, N.J., where Bartle is assigned to watch over Murphy. The duo is deployed to Iraq, and the novel alternates between the men’s war zone experiences and Bartle’s life after returning home. Early on, it emerges that Murphy has been killed; Bartle is haunted by guilt, and the details of Murphy’s death surface slowly. Powers writes gripping battle scenes, and his portrait of male friendship, while cheerless, is deeply felt. As a poet, the author’s prose is ambitious, which sets his treatment of the theme apart—as in this musing from Bartle: “though it’s hard to get close to saying what the heart is, it must at least be that which rushes to spill out of those parentheses which were the beginning and end of my war.” The sparse scene where Bartle finally recounts Murphy’s fate is masterful and Powers’s style and story are haunting. (Sept.)
Michiko Kakutani
"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."
Benjamin Percy
"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."
Ron Charles
"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."
Tom Wolfe
"The All Quiet on the Western Front of America's Arab wars."
Ann Patchett
"The Yellow Birds is harrowing, inexplicably beautiful, and utterly, urgently necessary."
Michiko Kakutani - The New York Times
"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."
Alice Sebold
"This is a novel I've been waiting for. The Yellow Birds is born from experience and rendered with compassion and intelligence."
Colm Toibin
"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. The music of his prose has an exquisite mixture of control and then release which mirrors the action of the book, and the psychological and physical pressures under which the characters are placed."
Philipp Meyer
"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."
Chris Cleave
"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."
Daniel Woodrell
"Kevin Powers has delivered an exceptional novel from the war in Iraq, written in clean, evocative prose, lyric and graphic, in assured rhythms, a story for today and tomorrow and the next."
Anthony Swofford
"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."
Robert Olen Butler
"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."
Hilary Mantel
"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."
Edna O'Brien
"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."
From the Publisher
"The book is so heartfelt and so good that it not only reaffirms the power of fiction to tell the truth about the unspeakable, but also asks serious questions of a generation of writers—myself included—who have thus far avoided addressing these disastrous wars directly. 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. Impeccably structured and told with the poetry of a master, I often had to put the book down, close my eyes and savour the depth of the writing. Comparisons with Hemingway will be inevitable because of the brevity and economical style, and with Cormac McCarthy because of the author's talent for landscape. But Powers builds on this literary foundation to create a style of his own. He writes without hauteur, and his insights into the post-traumatic condition have a degree of sharpness that frequently subvert the classical mode of his storytelling and leave the reader with heart hammering. This is a superb literary achievement. I urge everyone to read it."—Chris Cleave, author of Little Bee"

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"

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. The music of his prose has an exquisite mixture of control and then release which mirrors the action of the book, and the psychological and physical pressures under which the characters are placed."—Colm Toibin

Darren Reidy
"The first great Iraq War novel."
Alan Cheuse
"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."
GQ
"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."
Los Angeles Times
"The Yellow Birds might just be the first American literary masterpiece produced by the Iraq war."
TIME
"An elegiac, sober, and haunting coming-of-age war story."
The New Yorker
"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."
G.Q.
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.
Men's Journal
"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."
Library Journal
This first novel by Powers traces the story of a young soldier named John Bartle and his friend Murph during fighting in northern Iraq in 2005. Sterling, the tough sergeant of their platoon, has informally assigned Bartle the job of watching over Murph, who is young, small, and not much of a soldier, and Bartle had also promised Murph's mother that he would take care of him. As the horrors of war escalate, all the soldiers seem to lose their grip, and Murph finally snaps, leaving the compound and forcing Bartle and Sterling to search for him through the nightmarish landscape of a ravaged city. Alternating with this plot is the story of Bartle's life after his return home, as he attempts to piece together his friend's fate and come to grips with it. VERDICT Thoughtful and analytical, the novel resonates as an accurate and deeply felt portrayal of the effects of post-combat syndrome as experienced by soldiers in the disorienting war in Iraq. While the battle scenes are effectively dramatized, the main character's inner turmoil is the focal point of this well-done novel. [See Prepub Alert, 3/22/12.]—Jim Coan, SUNY at Oneonta
Kirkus Reviews
A novel about the poetry and the pity of war. The title comes from an Army marching chant that expresses a violence that is as surprising as it is casual. Pvt. John Bartle's life becomes linked to that of Pvt. Daniel Murphy when they're both assigned to Fort Dix before a deployment to Iraq. Murph has just turned 18, but at 21, Bartle is infinitely more aged. In a rash statement, one that foreshadows ominous things to come, Bartle promises Murph's mother that he'll look out for him and "bring him home to you." The irascible Sgt. Sterling overhears this promise and cautions Bartle he shouldn't have said anything so impulsive and ill-advised. In Iraq nine months later, the two friends go on missions that seem pointless in theory but that are dangerous in fact. They quickly develop an apparent indifference and callousness to the death and destruction around them, but this indifference exemplifies an emotional distance necessary for their psychological survival. As the war intensifies in Nineveh province, they witness and participate in the usual horrors that many soldiers in war are exposed to. As a result of his experiences, Murph starts to act strangely, becoming more isolated and withdrawn until he finally snaps. Eventually he, too, becomes a victim of the war, and Bartle goes home to face the consequences of a coverup in which he'd participated. Powers writes with a rawness that brings the sights and smells as well as the trauma and decay of war home to the reader.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780594625407
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
04/30/2013
Pages:
230
Sales rank:
937
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.75(d)

What People are saying about this

Colm Toibin
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. The music of his prose has an exquisite mixture of control and then release which mirrors the action of the book, and the psychological and physical pressures under which the characters are placed.
Robert Olen Butler
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.
Anthony Swofford
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.
Philip Caputo
The minute I read Kevin Powers's marvelous first sentence—'The war tried to kill us in the spring'—I knew I was in the hands of an exceptional writer. That line is right up there with 'Call me Ishmael.' And I wasn't disappointed. Powers's poetic gifts render the experience of Americans in Iraq with great emotional intensity. War has been a subject of literature ever since The Iliad. The best books transcend their time and circumstances to say something enduring and truthful about war itself. The Yellow Birds belongs in that category.
--Philip Caputo, author of A Rumor of War
Daniel Woodrell
Kevin Powers has delivered an exceptional novel from the war in Iraq, written in clean, evocative prose, lyric and graphic, in assured rhythms, a story for today and tomorrow and the next.
Hilary Mantel
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.
Edna O'Brien
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.
Chris Cleave
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.
Tom Wolfe
The All Quiet on the Western Front of America's Arab wars.
Alice Sebold
This is a novel I've been waiting for. The Yellow Birds is born from experience and rendered with compassion and intelligence.
Ann Patchett
The Yellow Birds is harrowing, inexplicably beautiful, and utterly, urgently necessary.

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