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Niagara on the Lake, Ontario, Canada
My virtue is that I say what I think, my vice that what I think doesn't amount to much.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Yellow Birds

"The war tried to kill us in the spring. As grass greened the plains of Nineveh the weather warmed, we patrolled the low-slung hills beyond the cities and towns. " is the powerful beginning of this debut novel by Iraq veteran and poet, Kevin Powers. This is a story of two boys at war and the endless days, the boredom, fatigue and constant background danger that wears them down, changing them more than they thought possible. The story is told through the eyes of Private John Bartle. During basic training he befriends Daniel Murphy, a teenaged private, and makes a promise to Murph's mother to bring him safely home. His sergeant, an experienced and sometimes brutal soldier named Sterling, chastises him for making a promise he can't keep.

The narrative alternates between Iraq and Virginia where Bartle returns after his tour of duty. We are told early on that Murph is killed. The guilt Bartle feels about his death and his inability to deal with it is the crux of the novel. Bartle struggles to carry on and to make sense out of the senseless bloody horror that is war. He feels guilt about having let his buddy down, having broken his promise to the boy's mother and ultimately about surviving when Murph and others died. 

This is a well written story that moves along slowly, much like the monotonous days spent by the soldiers. Then it sneaks up on you and clobbers you on the head. It's a difficult read but I recommend it.

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