Patrick Neylan's Reviews > The Yellow Birds

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
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Aug 07, 12

bookshelves: fiction, war
Read from July 30 to August 01, 2012 — I own a copy, read count: 1

This is the story of one man's fight to survive war and survive the homecoming.

Like Remarque and Graves, Powell is a veteran. One wonders how much of Yellow Birds is imagination and how much is close to his real experience. In alternating chapters he tells the parallel narrative of Private Bartle's time in Iraq and his return, living with the casual promise he made to a mother to bring her son home safe.

There's action in the war narrative, but most of the battle happens in his head. Bartle isn't a hero of either kind. He doesn't take on machine guns single-handed, nor does he stand up against the brutality or war or question it. His is an inward journey: how to remain human in the comradeship of men who kill and how to remain human in the lonely company of those who think he's a hero simply for fighting under their flag.

Bartle's struggle is harrowing and real. There is little graphic violence because the war itself is only a physical threat and Powers is concerned with the far more deadly war of the mind. As such, Yellow Birds is unspectacular but all the more real and impressive for that.

Film has been the medium for portraying the agony of modern war since Apocalypse Now. America's experience in Iraq hasn't had its Goodbye to All That or All Quiet on the Western Front. It has it now.
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