The Yellow Birds
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The Yellow Birds

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  12,519 ratings  ·  2,212 reviews
"The war tried to kill us in the spring," begins this breathtaking 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. In the endless days that follow, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that pr...more
Hardcover, First Edition, 226 pages
Published September 6th 2012 by Little, Brown (first published 2012)
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Jeffrey Keeten
Sep 29, 2012 Jeffrey Keeten rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jeffrey by: Mike Sullivan
"THE WAR TRIED to kill us in the spring. As green greened the plains of Nineveh and the weather warmed, we patrolled the low-slung hills beyond the cities and towns. We moved over them and through the tall grass on faith, kneading paths into he windswept growth like pioneers. While we slept, the war rubbed its thousand ribs against the ground in prayer. When we pressed onward through exhaustion, its eyes were white and open in the dark. While we ate, the war fasted, fed by its own deprivation. I...more
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
The Yellow Birds wins the 2012 Guardian First Book Award! Review can now be found at Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud!

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Amanda
Jun 20, 2013 Amanda rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: blog
I've put off writing this review for a few days now while I mulled the book over because something in it just didn't work for me. And this, indeed, is a conundrum, because this novel should have been tailor-made for me. Generally speaking, I'm a fan of contemporary war novels. I don't enjoy them as escapist entertainment; I take them seriously and I respect them because I want to learn, I want to listen, I want to know what it's like to go to war without actually having to go to war. In some way...more
Mike
Oct 26, 2012 Mike rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Mike by: NYTimes Book Review
The Yellow Birds: Kevin Powers' Novel of Young Men at War

Why the title, The Yellow Birds? Kevin Powers took it from a traditional marching cadence that's been around a long time.

A yellow bird
with a yellow bill
was sitting on
my window sill
I lured him in
with a piece of bread
and then I smashed his f**king head.


Photobucket
Yellow birds in step

I can add little to what my friend Jeff Keeten has said about this powerful and terrible beauty of a book. While I read it first, and recommended it to him, you won't f...more
Marsha
First off, I want to say that the problem with this book is probably with me. Many deeper, more thoughtful readers loved it, and I might have enjoyed it more if I was in the mood for a book I had to really concentrate on and think about, and if I had someone there to explain all the lyrical, beautifully written, but somewhat confusing prose. I had to keep rereading, but even now I am not sure of what happened or why in parts of the book. It is the story of a soldier serving in Iraq in 2004. He h...more
Fionnuala
The Yellow Birds is a fictionalised account of a young American soldier’s experiences while on a tour of duty in Iraq in 2004. That this book has been published and is getting a wide readership is important because any and every account, in whatever medium, which underlines the absurdity of war is needed urgently until the sending out of young men to fight senseless wars becomes a thing of the past.

Powers was 17 when he joined the army and what I'd really like to have read is his diary from that...more
Forrest
My dad was a cold warrior, serving in the Air Force from before my birth to well into my adult years. Part of that time was spent serving in Vietnam and Thailand (and, yes, there was combat in Thailand at the time) where he was a radio operator who also served on base defense whenever his base was attacked. Apparently, this happened a few times in his stay in Southeast Asia. As a boy, being a boy, I asked my Dad "Dad, did you ever get a purple heart?". He responded "No way! I kept my ass down! T...more
Lou
Oct 20, 2012 Lou rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: arc
The inundated reports of wars and turmoil in the middle-east have created blind eyes and death ears to many as the death toll ever increases and people have lost count on the fallen.
Death seems to not be noticed as much as it should, except that is, for those that have lost loved ones of kin, love, and friendship in these wars plaguing the earth. This story could possibly win the attention of those guilty of this and make the dead count for those readers in the alien region of understanding this...more
Tori
Contrary to most of the other reviewers, I loved this. Absence of strict plot does not a bad novel make.

It is certainly more poetic than books that are strictly categorized as novels these days. I think war stories in particular benefit from a more poetic, stream-of-consciousness type writing. Seldom does war itself follow a strict plot line, why would war literature do so.

Characters may be deemed somewhat lacking, but the story isn't really about them, it's about the experience, and I think P...more
Ken
Oct 08, 2012 Ken rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: novels
As a chaplain in a VA hospital, I don't meet many former warriors who consider themselves heroes, nor many who think that war is necessary. There is nothing romantic or beautiful about it. Some will speak broadly of their experience, but only a few will talk about its horror. And so I turn to literature to help me understand.
I think of The Iliad, 1 and 2 Samuel, War and Peace, All Quiet on the Western Front, Blood Meridian, Catch 22, Slaughterhouse Five, and The Naked and the Dead. I add to the...more
Camilla ~ ♥ Sterek ♥ ~
I’ve been sitting here thinking about what I want to write and tell you about this book, but it’s really.. really hard.. The storyline in itself isn’t that hard.

It’s told from John’s POV. He’s thinking back to when he was in the military and stationed in Iraq in 2004/05. He’s thinking about his friend Murph and how a war can change a person.

This in itself isn’t that hard to explain, but I find it really hard to figure out if I liked it or not. And how do I review a book if I don’t even know if I...more
Jakey Gee
I really wanted to like this, having been drawn to the back story and - like a lamb to the slaughter - the 'All Quiet on the Western Front' analogies.

Now obviously, there is great value in the account and it’s a strong addition to the growing ‘Iraq novel’ genre. There’s also enough brutality and insight to make it a pretty hard-hitting read. What disappoints is that it’s all pretty disconnected and often just plain overwritten.

To be generous, perhaps the idea of a solider-poet in the Iraq war...more
Christopher
This book is perfect in the way only a small book can be perfect. Like We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Ethan Frome, and The Road, it knows how to boil a story down to its most potent and affecting parts. It is, itself, an essence. A war story that could have been told around a campfire or, more likely, inside a confessional booth.

Here we have Privates John Bartle and Daniel Murphy, narrator and tragic figure, respectively, both with a single foot barely in adulthood, thrust into unknowable w...more
Jennifer
Jan 09, 2014 Jennifer rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jennifer by: Blue Willow

In the last decade or so, one would be hard-pressed to find anyone left untouched in some fashion by Iraq or Afghanistan, whether it be through a family member, friend, neighbor, colleague, or acquaintance. To be honest, I’m really not sure why I chose to read this book. Maybe it was because my brother was deployed for twenty-two months and never really talked too much in depth about it. He did express a deep and abiding hatred of the enemy (“hajji”) in a classic “us” vs. “them” mentality. If my...more
Scott
What a fantastic novel, Yellow Birds, the story of a young America soldier in Iraq, before, during, and after his tour, written by Kevin Powers who, as it happens, enlisted at 17, became a machine gunner in the desert, and spent a lot of time in city of Al Tafar, where much of Yellow Birds takes place. This book is lean and explosive, beautifully written and absolutely horrifying, so intelligent and open and brave about exploring what war feels like, what it does to people, to everyone and every...more
Blair
On the day I finished this book and decided it was one of the most overrated things I've read in ages, it won the Guardian's first book award for 2012. Ha. I am obviously in a minority with my opinions about The Yellow Birds - I can find few negative reviews (certainly none from critics), and it seems none of those who dislike it do so for all the same reasons as me.

The Yellow Birds is a vague, hazy story about two American soldiers: John Bartle and his young, naive friend, Daniel Murphy, known...more
Larry Bassett
The boys go off to kill and be killed:
The colonel cleared his throat and pulled a pair of glasses out of his pocket and rested them on the bridge of his nose. One of the sergeants came over and shined a small flashlight on the colonel’s piece of paper. “Boys,” he began, “you will soon be asked to do great violence in the cause of good.” He paced back and forth and his boot prints in the fine dust were never trampled. Each step was precise and his pacing only served to firm and define the track
...more
Cathy DuPont
Jun 30, 2013 Cathy DuPont rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Cathy by: Jeff Keeten
Peace sign photo peacesign_zps3cc064d5.jpg

After reading a book recommended by one of my GR friends, I sometimes go back and read their review to see if it is close to what I'm thinking about the book.

I did that, reading my friend Jeff Keeten's The Yellow Birds review this morning (for the second time) and again read every one the 56 comments. The comments ranged from questions about the war in Iraq, slight comparisons to the Vietnam War and opinions in general on how we got into the Iraq War. Excellent review by Jeff and excellent com...more
Jill
Some people are just born to write. Kevin Powers, in this debut book, is certainly one of them. The Yellow Birds is breathtaking good, profoundly insightful and written with an incredible amount of emotional precision.

Some might compare it to other war-themed books: The Naked and the Dead, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Things They Carried, or even A Separate Peace. They would, in my opinion, be misguided.

This is not the quintessential book about the Iraqi War, even though the settings are...more
Michael
Haunted by Murph, The Yellow Birds follows the story of Private Bartle and his time served in Al Tafar, Iraq, the loss of a friend and the aftermath. Every war there seems to be one powerful book that is so heartbreaking but helps readers get an idea of the tragic nature of war; I'm thinking All Quiet on the Western Front, The Diary of a Young Girl, The Things They Carried and now The Yellow Birds can quiet possible be the one to reflect the harsh reality of the Iraq War.

This is a book of frien...more
Stephen
First thing I will say is that George Bush and his ilk should read this book, checked out from the prison library. To say the novel is powerful is an understatement The prose is elegant in its simplicity and ability to drag you kicking and screaming into the character's lives - you do not want to read it because you know something bad and disgusting is going to happen and it does and you read it and it is drilled into you head - in living color and smell. You can hear it too. It is the story of...more
Nancy Oakes
I really, really liked this novel. Didn't love it, but considering it's one of the few novels coming out of the Iraqi war, you have to give the author a great deal of credit for capturing (even fictionally) the troubled psyche of his main character.

the long review is here; here's a shorter one:

From its powerful first sentence, "The war tried to kill us in the spring" to the last harrowing page of this novel, Kevin Powers offers his readers haunting images of the war in Iraq. The battles, howev...more
Charles
I found this book to be more poetry than prose. The words flowed, sometimes like a small stream, and sometimes in a giant current, a wave of emotions and feelings and views and reminiscences and of people and places and smells. I was swept away in this current.

The plot is minimal. I could summarize it in a sentence, which I have no plans to do. The timeline is discontinuous, bouncing from present to recent past to more distant past. This is an important part of the narrative, composed of loosely...more
Petergiaquinta
I’d like to accord Kevin Powers’ book the same respect I give him and all our vets back from Iraq, but a book isn’t a man and a book doesn’t automatically earn my deference and appreciation. I didn’t dislike the novel, and I tried liking it harder even to the point of starting it for a second read as soon as I finished it. I love its opening paragraphs (shades of Hemingway there, I thought), but after that I had a hard time warming to the book which felt to me as if it was trying too hard in all...more
Al
I respect Kevin Powers. I respect his service to the country (despite what he would think about that). I respect the way he captures the terror, the boredom, and the discomfort of battle. But this book, if it had to exist, should have been a memoir, because it doesn't work as a novel. Powers takes us inside his mind as he did his time in basic, in battle and as a postwar civilian. The problem is that one can see all too clearly the joints where he has glued on the other characters and incidents...more
Michael
There are not many books i have read that have left me initially speechless after finishing. Such was the sheer brutality and beauty of The Yellow Birds it did just that. the story centre's on Private John Bartle's experiences fighting alongside an even younger private Daniel Murphey or Murph as he was known in Al Tafar Iraq. We follow the two Privates right from Murphs joining, to Bartle's promise to ensure he will be ok to his mom, one that will haunt him later on after his return home, the ba...more
Ana
As much as I love long, never-ending stories, I also love short bursts of feeling that show you raw and impossible to deny realities. The best material for these kind of explosions are war stories, because their truth is not a very fictional one, you can't make it more romantic. It's painful and bare and it hurts in so many different ways that you can't contain it better than writing very directly about it. You can see that pain is not a very artsy thing and doesn't care for adorning; it is best...more
TheSmellOfPaper
This is the first time I've given a 2 and I feel I need to defend it. Clearly, I'm in a minority here versus some heavyweight critics.

While Powers is capable of some gorgeously crafted writing, the reason I opted for "It's ok" instead of "I liked it" is that to be honest, I didn't like it. Not because of the subject matter but because I didn't feel it worked as a novel.

This was written as a novel, not a memoir, so I judged it in terms of the story it told, not the truth it might have been conve...more
Diane Yannick
Kevin Powers knows what it's like to go to war. He knows the relentless brutality of Al Tafar. in 2004-05. He gives us glimpses of the camaraderie among soldiers and the suppressed emotions of survival. He made me think about how the "walking dead" could be identified by those who were able to "adjust" to military life. He had an authentic voice that needs to be heard.

The way he told the story is unforgivable. This man has an MFA and is a poet. He can write. He can write way too much. He piled o...more
Patricia
I got this book at Book Expo America 2012 and was very excited about it. Read it on the plane home.

But a lot of pretty sentences strung together does not a book make.

Yellow Birds has all the right blurbs, all the right marketing behind it, all the right people saying the right things. When it comes out in the fall I'm sure it will get all the right reviews. The author clearly knows the right people who know the right people. That is okay, it is just part of the world we live in, whether it's boo...more
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21st Century Lite...: Yellow Birds: The whole book (general discussion) 4 77 Apr 05, 2014 06:13PM  
Spoiler Alert - So what really happened? 20 334 Jan 13, 2014 11:47AM  
James River Writers: Finished Reading, Spoilers Allowed 1 12 Sep 02, 2013 04:26AM  
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In 2004 and 2005, Kevin Powers served with the U.S. Army in Mosul and Tal Afar, Iraq. He studied English at Virginia Commonwealth University after his honorable discharge and received an M.F.A. in Poetry from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin in 2012.
More about Kevin Powers...
Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting: Poems Buzz Books 2012

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