Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day)'s Reviews > The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
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's review
Jan 16, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: source-own, format-ebooks, 2010, fiction, f-general
Read from November 22 to 27, 2010

I wish I could remember whose review compelled me to read this book - so much that I still remember snatches of that review. When I saw this ebook for under six bucks on the Barnes and Noble website, I had to grab it. It was the perfect read on the 30/45-minutes-to-anywhere NY public transportation system. Sometimes, I read it on my nook, and sometimes on my phone (I'm beginning to completely appreciate the utility of the ebook).

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien is actually a collection of essays, set during the Vietnam war, and focusing more on the experiences of the other members of Tim's platoon. It starts ostensibly as a list of the men's possessions, intriguingly tied with their own habits, preferences and beliefs.
Henry Dobbins, who was a big man, carried extra rations; he was especially fond of canned peaches in heavy syrup over pound cake. Dave Jensen, who practiced field hygiene, carried a toothbrush, dental floss, and several hotel-size bars of soap he'd stolen on R&R in Sydney, Australia. Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried tranquilizers until he was shot in the head outside the village of Than Khe in mid-April.

By the time, Tim is done listing the items they carried, I began wondering how they even moved about. It's harrowing reading about the little things they carry to ensure that even in the case of a sudden near-fatal attack, they do have a chance to be alive. Beside all the essential fighting gear, they carry around items of sentimental value - letters, photos, etc. The essays are also about the emotional baggage that the men carried around - lost love, dumped girlfriends, school accounts, and also about how they felt when they were drafted.

Loss was a theme central to this book. Whether it was about losing fellow soldiers or finding that the someone special back home has left you, the vibes were strongly felt. Death doesn't give any warning before claiming someone on the battlefield. "Here one minute, Gone the next minute" pretty much summed up the sentiment. There was one essay titled "The Lives of the Dead", in which Tim explains how the soldiers detach themselves from death, mainly using humor. To any new soldier and an outsider, it would appear plain callous. It did to me, when I first read it. By the end of the essay, that feeling changed to respect. When watching any war movie or TV show, or reading a war book - I am most interested in knowing how the soldiers cope. Being hard inside is not solution enough, and what are the chances that every soldier sent out to the field can just swallow up every sad feeling in the world when his best buddy dies?

All the essays were poignant. There was one, titled "Speaking of Courage", which though not one of my favorites, was nevertheless moving in its construction. It detailed a few hours in the life of a soldier who served with Tim. The PTSD, the lack of connection with outside life, the feeling that nobody can ever understand him, the torture of guilt over losing a friend, suppressing the real guilt under the mask of disappointment over not getting a major award - the powerful feelings just stood out for me in this essay. How does one go back to normalcy after all the gore and tragedy? Does one?

I sometimes wished this book was longer. When I started reading it, I wasn't aware that it was a collection of essays. That mode of narration really worked in this case, except that once in a while, a few things became repetitive. Mostly, it was to be drive impact, but sometimes the effect began to dry off and become sore. Still, this is a great collection that has elements of pre-war, during-war and after-war effects molded well together. And the essay format worked well here, because the effects of war span over a long period. The physical war may have ended, but the inner war wages on, and many of the essays reflected that well.

After I posted this review on my blog, a reader alerted me that this book isn't true nonfiction, rather, Tim uses a technique called verisimilitude to make the reader see reality in a new way.I have to admit I was surprised because I had always assumed this book to be nonfiction but with certain liberties taken to move the story along. I did a bit of digging online, and it is mentioned that the title page mentions that this is a work of fiction. I checked back to my ebook version, and alas, it's not there. And I remember reading the introduction pages a few times before starting the book. Not having known about it until now, I'm not sure how I feel about this. It almost feels disappointing to know that what I considered to be nonficiton is actually fiction, though probably based on the author's life. Does this change my opinion of the book? No. But it sure leaves me a tad disappointed that I didn't know this earlier, at least right after I completed the book.

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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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♥Xeni♥ You don't happen to have an extra copy of that book for me hidden in a back pocket or something, do you? xD I've been wanting to read it for years!!

Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day) I am actually reading it on my nook, and if you happen to have a nook or even any of the nook apps (on your phone or computer), I can "LendMe" this to you once I am done! How about that? (PS: This book is awesome so far!)

♥Xeni♥ Oh, I would love that! I'll read up on how to do it on my laptop tomorrow. :D thank you!

Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day) Awesome! :) Even if you don't figure it out, I can help you out, no issues.

message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Having grown up during the VietNam war and having a brother that served 2 tours there I can say(yet I have not read this book yet) it may be very close to the real thing. Many of these soldiers, men and women both came home nothing close to the people we sent over there.

Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day) Rainey wrote: "Having grown up during the VietNam war and having a brother that served 2 tours there I can say(yet I have not read this book yet) it may be very close to the real thing. Many of these soldiers, me..."

I can imagine! The one reason I never assumed that this book may be fiction, is because the stories felt very real. Based on the impressions I gained from reading other nonfiction war books and watching such TV shows/documentaries, I would have been surprised if anyone who went through those horrors returned back as the same person that left for the war. This book was amazing in that respect too!

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