There are books that you read, books that you love, books that you admire, and ultimately books that stay with you. This year the book that will stay with me for a very long time and the one that I have cherished the most is, “The Yellow Birds” by Kevin Powers. I have never been so impacted by a book like I was with this one. I read it in a night and there were times that I just had to close the book and cry. I had to let it out and then go back to the book. Had I not done this, I would not have been able to finish this book.
“The Yellow Birds” is about war. There is something about war that attracts me to it – it has nothing to do with any government or political strategy or the pros and cons of it. What makes me want to read more about it or watch movies about the war condition, is what humans go through. The ones fighting the war and the ones impacted by it. The ones living it on a daily basis and the ones who pray for their children to come back home – safe and sound. That is War and its emotion and maybe more.
The book opens in 2005, Al Tafar in Iraq. Private John Bartle is the narrator and the protagonist of the book. He makes friends with a young private Daniel Murphy, and the friendship develops. Murph is eighteen years old and Bartle is twenty-one. They are fighting a war and at the same time trying to survive. Sergeant Sterling is the third character in the book whose nature and character is revealed only as the book goes along. The book is about Bartle’s experience in war and how it impacts him and the rest of the soldiers. He speaks of promises, betrayal and the ending will take the reader by shock. I am not going to reveal any significant sub-plot, because I really want the reader/s to experience this book, the way I did.
“The Yellow Birds” is not an easy book to read. The book moves across time – from the war, to how they enlisted to Bartle coming back home and how things change for him. There are passages and moments that will wrench your heart as you read along. What is also interesting to note is that Kevin Powers also served in the US Army, so it kind of also is scary for the reader to imagine which parts in the book are real and which aren’t.
The writing is stupendous. Kevin Powers deserves to win all the literary prizes on the circuit. He knows how to tell a story – in all its glory – with the way it is and the way it was. It is an engrossing read, which is quite short and at the same time does a lot more to your head and heart that you can imagine it to. There is pain, there is hope and at times there is the thin line of despair. There are places in the book when you just want to let the characters know that it will be all okay, but maybe they will not. War changes people I guess. “The Yellow Birds” is a book about hope and maybe the understanding that at the end of the day it is all about what it is to be human – in times of war and peace.