The basics: Set in Iraq in 2004 and the months after, The Yellow Birds tells the story of two soldiers, Private Bartle and Private Murphy, who meet at training camp.
My thoughts: This novel's opening chapter is a visceral depiction of war. As I read it on the bus, I found myself crying and trying to breathe deeply to calm myself. I was grateful when the time shifted in the next chapter. Powers continues this powerful alternation between the war in Iraq and Bartle's attempts to deal with its aftermath. The reader learns early on that Murphy doesn't survive the war, yet the tension leading up to the how and why of his death is a literary marvel. I was eager to begin a chapter away from the war, but as the novel progressed and Bartle struggled, I soon found the Iraq chapters less emotionally challenging.
Bartle is 21, while Murphy is 18. As I read, I had to remember how large of a difference it is between age 18 and 21, particularly when you're killing to try to stay alive. Their age difference plays into the power dynamics of their friendship and adds a wrinkled layer to the events of Murphy's death to which Powers slowly builds up.
Favorite passage: "Half of memory is imagination anyway."
The verdict: The Yellow Birds is a quiet, haunting, and deeply moving depiction of the two soldiers and the impact of war. It's astonishingly well-paced and gets better as it goes on, leading up to one of the best endings I've read this year.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 240 pages
Publication date: September 11, 2012
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