Marsha's Reviews > The Yellow Birds

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
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it was ok

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 has foolishly, and a bit flippantly, promised a mother to take care of her son, with whom he serves. It turns out that nobody can keep anyone safe. The consequences of that promise, along with the fear, isolation, and craziness of war, are what make up the story. The story itself, was secondary to the immediate environment and the inner muse of the main character. Maybe that is why the story was somewhat hard to follow, and a bit anti-climactic. Here is an example of the writing:

"Clouds spread out over the Atlantic like soiled linens on an unmade bed. I knew, watching them, that if in any given moment a measurement could be made it would show how tentative was my mind's mastery over my heart. Such small arrangements make a life, and though it's hard to get close to saying what the heart is, it must at least be that which rushes to spill out of those parentheses which were the beginning and the end of my war: the old life disappearing into the dust that hung and hovered over Nineveh even before it could be recalled and longed for, young and unformed as it was, already broken by the time I reached the furthest working of my memory. I was going home. But home, too, was hard to get an image of, harder still to think beyond the last curved enclosure of the desert, where it seemed I had left the better portion of my self as one among innumerable grains of sand, how in the end the weather-beaten stone is not one stone but only that which has been weathered, a result, an example of slow erosion on a thing by wind or wave that break against it, so that the else of anyone involved ends up deposited like silt spilling out into an estuary, or gathered at the bottom of a river in a city that is all you can remember."

See, beautifully written and lyrical, but I still am not quite sure what it means. I had a hard time knowing, understanding, or caring deeply about the characters because I never understood quite what was being said and the story was so jumpy and inconclusive. The author is a poet and served in Iraq as a machine gunner in 2004-2005. He is obviously a talented writer and knows his subject matter, I just needed the story to be a bit more clear. I really wanted to like it...
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 20, 2013 – Finished Reading
January 22, 2013 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-17 of 17 (17 new)

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Martha Marsha, I agree with you--just finished this today. The episode around which the story revolves is good, but I don't think he ever found his voice. Shortly in, I suddenly thought, "this book has MFA school written all over it," so I looked at the back flap and, sure enough, he has an MFA from UT Austin. Too many words, too many inappropriate similes, too much commentary, too many things said the way a 21-year-old grunt wouldn't say them. I agree some plot points were confusingly presented. Just didn't quite work out. Doesn't compare to The Things They Carried--about Viet Nam. Have you read that?


Marsha I haven't read The Things They Carried--thanks for the recommendation!


Sharon Agreed. The writer definitely has potential, and obviously crafts beautiful, lyrical prose. But I desperately wanted to know exactly what happened to Murph! And why in the name of God would his friends feel the need to keep it from Murph's mother??? Seems like it would not be asking too much of an author to include a definite story line along with all of the beautiful words.


Jennifer I found this book to be mind altering. Yes, deep thoughts, but so clearly articulated I felt I was "there". They were trying to protect Murphs mother from knowing the horror and mutilatton of her sons death


message 5: by Erin (new)

Erin I really loved this comment you wrote. I began this book over the weekend and felt the same way. I knew that it was beautiful and "should love it," but it truly requires that you put the time into reading it and delving into the deeper meaning. I think I will put it aside for a quieter time in my life.


message 6: by jhldjfau (new) - added it

jhldjfau A fair, well-balanced review. You echoed my sentiments exactly.


Marsha Thank you for your comments on my review! I think we can all agree that war is worse than awful, and that unless someone has been there, it is difficult to impossible to describe in words the experience. My heart and my respect go to the men and women (and their families) who have served and are serving in the military. My heart also aches for those who live in the midst of the battleground.


Erica Mitchell I have just started it and agree it can be confusing. I thought it was just me or that I was dumb for not understanding some of it. Lol


Marsha Erica, I don't know you, but I would dare to say that you are not dumb. :)


Flora I think this book probably needs to be read at least one more time in order to take it all in properly. I couldn't take time to appreciate the writing because I wanted to get to the end to find out what had happened to Murph. I've never ever been a " read the end before the beginning so that you can take your time over reading the book" person, but in this case I probably wish I was. All the time I was thinking how beautifully written it all was and could see the poetic turn of phrase shining through but I definitely didn't appreciate it all fully because of wanting to follow the story. I don't know if I'll read it again, I'm no good at going back to books because there's always a new one waiting to be savoured but I'm giving this one 4 stars because it really is a very good book. It gets into the soldier's mind in a way no other book I've read does and I found it very moving. It's the kind of book that stops you in your tracks, when you find that you can't just start another book right away, you need to take some time to let it sink in and recover from the emotion of it all.


Marsha Flora, you sound a bit like me--I probably rushed the reading a bit because I, too, wanted to find out what had happened. But I also rushed a bit because I was getting so bored with the effort of trying to interpret and understand the prose. In the end, it just wasn't worth it. I'm glad you liked it!


Angela You all just articulated beautifully how I felt about the book and I feel both grateful and relieved.Difficult prose that had me skimming - something I rarely do, to learn an ending of which I feel no resolution. Also want to add that there is no real relationship buildup between Bart and murph that makes their bond so tight. I just don't feel it. And I was confused by what actually happened at the end to murph and the need for a cover- up


message 13: by Amber (new)

Amber I couldn't agree with you more.


message 14: by Amber (new)

Amber I couldn't agree with you more.


message 15: by K (new)

K Sounds like the writer spends more time on describing the clouds than the real meat the story, i.e. the relationship. I haven't read it, but it was recco's to me - think I'll pass.


Sheryl Walker I was very moved by this book and I could appreciate what our troops have gone thru after finishing it. You hear the stories but whether this was representative or not, it makes me understand the struggles these Americans face once they return to civilian life.


message 17: by Dele (new) - rated it 3 stars

Dele Kitan Í thought it was just me, I had to reread many times. I was tempted to drop it. Some how I just browsed through.. very difficult read.. glad I wasn't the only one that felt this way.. too much description of the environment than the actual story.. I tried imagining the scenes, but failed..


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