The Yellow Birds
  • The Yellow Birds
  • The Yellow Birds

The Yellow Birds

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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 platoon

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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 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 question Kevin Powers got most often after his tour of duty in Iraq was "What's it like over there?" In his first novel, The Yellow Birds, he answers from inside the war with an intimate book that's as powerful as it is heartbreaking.

Pvt. John Bartle, an Army machine gunner, has returned home from "our little pest of a war" crippled by hidden wounds. He's twenty-one, just a kid, and after the things he saw and did in the deserts of Al Tafar, he's shell-shocked. Daniel Murphy, the eighteen-year-old fellow Virginian he was paired with in boot camp, has been killed. In a splintered narrative that shifts back and forth in time — mirroring the disintegration of Bartle's own mind and soul ? the young man fights both to tell and to remember the truth about his friend's death.

Unlike the Second World War fought by his grandfather, an experience made manageable by its "destination and purpose," the conflict in Iraq is circular and seemingly unending. Here's Bartle as he waits on the eve of yet another battle in the same city, describing his war: "We'd go back into a city that had fought this battle yearly; a slow, bloody parade in fall to mark the change of the season. We'd drive them out. We always had. We'd kill them. They'd shoot us and blow off our limbs and run into the hills and wadis, back into the alleys and dusty villages. Then they'd come back, and we'd start over by waving to them as they leaned against lampposts and unfurled green awnings while drinking tea in front of their shops. While we patrolled the streets, we'd throw candy to their children with whom we'd fight in the fall a few more years from now."

Powers himself, who was seventeen when he joined the Army and twenty-three when he shipped off to Iraq, came home restless and adrift. He eventually found his way to the poetry program at the University of Texas, and it shows up in his prose. Though the plot in The Yellow Birds is slight, the sustained and merciless close-up that the novel presents has an unsettling power: sun and heat and sand and shade and — just as you're lulled — the bullets come. So does death, and for the survivors, numbness.

With such a small portion of the nation shouldering such a large burden of this war, it has become easy to turn a blind eye to the fates of those who crumble under the burden. In flashes, Powers ensures that we, too, are properly haunted, as when Bartles and his fellow soldiers read the name of a fallen comrade and feel the chill of his sudden, permanent absence: "[W]e were sure that he'd walked as a ghost for years through South Texas?. We thought that he was already dead on the flight over, that if he was scared when the C 141 bringing him to Iraq had pitched and yawed through the sky over Baghdad there had been no need. He had nothing to fear. He'd been invincible, absolutely, until the day he was not."

Veronique de Turenne is a Los Angeles–based journalist, essayist, and playwright. Her literary criticism appears on NPR and in major American newspapers. One of the highlights of her career was interviewing Vin Scully in his broadcast booth at Dodger Stadium, then receiving a handwritten thank-you note from him a few days later.

Reviewer: Veronique de Turenne

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Product Details

Little, Brown and Company
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Hachette Digital, Inc.
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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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The Yellow Birds: A Novel 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 78 reviews.
JerseyJoe More than 1 year ago
This is one powerful novel ! It is intense, soul-searching and shocking . I finished it last night and it is still inside my head , consuming my thoughts . It is not an easy read . Stay with it ; you will be deeply moved . I had absolutely no idea what our troops faced on a daily basis in Iraq ; this novel opened my eyes . I believe every politician who so easily advocates placing America's Sons and Daughters in harm's way should read this novel .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book about the unraveling or at least the confusion of moral values that a war inflicts on its young soldiers is a very powerful anti-war statement. It puts a real face on post traumatic stress syndrome. Kevin Powers writes well and does a beautiful job of contrasting the beauty of nature with the baseness of war.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is purely amazing book best of it kind, no doubt.
bookbilly More than 1 year ago
A foot soldier, who enlists in the army for ambiguous reasons, experiences the mind numbing disillusioning impact of the horrors of combat. Nothing new about that, but here the story is enhanced by prose laced with the dense metaphors and similies of poetry. That's not surprising based on the author's actual combat experience in Iraq and poetry training. This is certainly a powerful and thoughtful anti-war novel that avoids veering off into the politics of our involvement. But the main character's internal dialogues on the meaningless of it all became repetitious and perhaps tedious. There are better nonfiction alternatives on the subject. War by Sebastian Junger and The Good Soldiers by David Finkel come to mind.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An absolutely compelling, mesmerizing novel that would read more rapidly, save the desire to re-read nearly every sentence, because of its beauty and power. The finest, grittiest, prose I have read in a war novel.  The book tells more with its terse economy of words and sculpted phrases than any novel four times its length.  A marvelous read, indeed!    d       .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story is very affecting and painful. It is very short, more a novelette rather than novel yet it reads as a full novel. In some way that may sound like and insult but it is not how it is intended. The story told is simply larger than the number of actual pages that makes up the novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very insightful into a soldier's experience in war.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had a major book hang over after reading this book. It gave me a much larger understanding of my Brother and others whom go threw war. I've little by little asked my brother about certain parts and he says there spot on. Thank you for this amazingly insiteful book!
JJSteven More than 1 year ago
Very intense and captivating. This was definitely not what I was expecting when I first picked it up, but the transitions in time really made this story flow perfectly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Yellow Birds ranks with the great war novels of all time. It is an "All Quiet on the Western Front" for the Iraq war.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I purchased this book after hearing a glowing review and interesting interview of the author on NPR. I was, however, disappointed and lost interest half way through. In places I was unable to follow the imagery and thought it overwhelmed the plot and characterization. I wanted to like this book but in the end put it down permanently. Maybe I've been away from poetry too long.
TakeMeAway More than 1 year ago
Insightful and really gives you a feeling of what it's like to be at war. Beautifully written!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Powers create a strong story that is disturbing on many levels. His characters are intriguingly flawed; and will live in your memory. I would recommend this book for book club discussions.
Anonymous 5 months ago
It is sad
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Smiled and went to bed. <ph> Gtgtb bby
cocobelle More than 1 year ago
When you begin, you feel that you can hardly bear to read it, but soon the writing and the deeply drawn descriptions capture you and make you care. Then you can hardly bear to put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
JAL2 More than 1 year ago
This is a moving story about two young men who enlist in the Army and serve in Iraq. This is the first book I've read on this subject that focuses on the enlisted soldiers and their experiences. It will change the way you think about those who served in the Afghanistan/Iraq wars.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book The Yellow Birds is a book for the ages. On par with The Red Badge of Courage and All Quiet on the Western Front, this is a story about a man fighting in the Iraq War who over time becomes disillusioned with the idea of war and the effects that it has on the soldiers fighting in it. Through the eyes of Pvt. Bartle, the reader can see and truly understand the mentality of a soldier that very few books have done before. This is truly a story that everybody should read. Although the novel does have its action, the real story is the mind of Pvt. Bartle. At home and in Iraq, the mind of a soldier is explored intimately in a way that modern readers can understand and sympathize with. If you have not picked up a copy yet, I would recommend that you do so now. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I highly recommend this novel to anyone who has read &ldquo;All Quiet on the Western Front&rdquo;. &ldquo;The Yellow Birds&rdquo; is a very intense novel that shows what war really is. Kevin Powers did an exceptional job writing this novel and does an amazing job describing what war can do to a person&rsquo;s mind. This novel gives the reader an inside look at the war in Iraq and takes you inside the mind of a soldier. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A true look at all that is felt in the no mans land that is, was and forever will be the War in Iraq.