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The Yellow Birds

3.74  ·  Rating Details ·  19,580 Ratings  ·  2,949 Reviews
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 battl
ebook, 240 pages
Published September 11th 2012 by Little, Brown and Company (first published 2012)
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Alym Definitely for anyone who is thinking seriously about joining the military. Younger readers would not "get" the full horror of war and PTSD.
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Jeffrey Keeten
Sep 24, 2012 Jeffrey Keeten rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 12, 2013 Amanda rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: blog, war
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
Richard Derus
Oct 15, 2012 Richard Derus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Yellow Birds wins the 2012 Guardian First Book Award! Review can now be found at Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud!

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Oct 08, 2012 Ken rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 22, 2013 Marsha rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Let me tell you right now that this book is going to hurt. The suffering the Iraqi War veterans endure in this book will touch a raw spot in you that you might prefer not to experience. You will probably, like me, have a lump in your throat and teary eyes most of the time when reading this excellent first novel by Kevin Powers. 5 stars all around and I'm looking forward to reading all future books by Powers, a combat veteran of the Iraq war.
Apr 06, 2013 Fionnuala rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war
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 th
Oct 23, 2012 Forrest rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 17, 2016 Melanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wow! I don't really know what to say about this book. The prose was a bit "fancy" for me but the story, I think, is very important. Being that the author was there, I'm assuming it is an accurate portrayal of the horrors of the war. It is such a sad and horrible story but also a very good story (does that make sense?). It is hard to imagine what these young men and women go through and then to come back here and try to live a "normal" life, seems almost impossible. This has been made into a movi ...more
The first lines of Kevin Powers The Yellow Birds announces that it intends to be a classic war novel, to be placed on the shelf somewhere between All Quiet on the Western Front and The Things They Carried:

The war tried to kill us in the spring. As grass greened the plains of Nineveh and the weather warmed, we patrolled low-slung hills beyond the cities and towns. We moved over them and through the tall grass on faith, kneading paths into the windswept growth like pioneers. While we slept, the w
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
Jul 20, 2012 Tori rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
David Baldacci
Nov 15, 2013 David Baldacci rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This fictionalized account of a soldier's time in the Middle East has received critical attention from all corners, and deservedly so. It’s a book that will make you think long after the last page has fallen.
Aug 16, 2012 Lou rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Larry Bassett
Oct 05, 2012 Larry Bassett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
“Ma, I am enlisting,” said the Boy

“But…why? You are so young?,” said the Mother worried and perplexed.

“I am 18,” said the boy, “quite capable of doing what I want to do,” he added with emphasis and a certain vehemence in his tone.

“But….why? I don’t understand this sudden decision,” said the mother again

“I need to be a man and what better way to become one than to go fight for my country,” said the boy in a tone that brooked no argument.

“But you are a man to me.. isn’t that enough?,” asked the mo
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
Dec 29, 2012 Camilla rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle
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
Dec 01, 2012 Jill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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
Nov 16, 2014 Giovanna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I'm kind of sorry but I'm probably not going to write an english review, because...I can't. I need to talk about it in my native language to try to write something that does (hopefully) make sense.

"The war tried to kill us in the spring. As grass 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 the windswept growth like pioneers. While we slept, the w
Ron Charles
Nov 01, 2012 Ron Charles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war-fiction
Halfway through our ongoing war on terror, a scholar at the University of East London estimated that a new book on terrorism was being published in English every six hours. Fiction writers were slower to engage with Sept. 11, but by 2006, the attacks and America’s response were becoming a touchstone for major novelists, including Jonathan Safran Foer, Ian McEwan, Claire Messud, Ward Just, John Updike, Don DeLillo, Joseph O’Neill, Andre Debus III, Lorrie Moore, Allegra Goodman, Sue Miller and man ...more
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
Feb 15, 2013 Christopher rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Christopher by: PDXReader
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
Aug 27, 2012 Jennifer rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Dec 02, 2012 Scott rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 20, 2014 Lee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's not every day you watch a beheading online and then about an hour later read about a body bomb on a bridge. Four stars for the affecting contemporaneity, for visceral scenes of engagement when the prose flexes in time with the action and traces the contours (<-- the novel's keyword) of a warped reality, but stretches fell off for me when the masculine lyricism seemed contrived or reaching for significance beyond its grasp. Sometimes felt like extra phrases toward the end of sentences fuz ...more
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
Jan 07, 2013 Al rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 18, 2012 Charles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Powers was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, the son of a factory worker and a postman, and enlisted in the U.S. Army at the age of seventeen. He attended James River High School.[1] Six years later, in 2004, he served a one-year tour in Iraq as a machine gunner assigned to an engineer unit.[2] Powers served in Mosul and Tal Afar, Iraq, from February 2004 to March 2005. After his honorable di ...more
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