Wednesday, November 14, 2012

book review: The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

The backstory: The Yellow Birds, the debut novel from Iraqi War veteran Kevin Powers, is a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award and shortlisted for the 2012 Flaherty-Dunnan Award.

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
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Yellow Birds from the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

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12 comments:

  1. I had the negalley of this but, of course, never got to it with my reading lull this year. I think I really want to read this one though. I'm going to put in on my list to get soon!

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    1. Wow, I just checked netgalley and I'm glad I did first because I was still able to download it!

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    2. I was trying to remember if I got my e-galley from NetGalley or Edelweiss, and I couldn't find it listed either place. Thanks for clearing it up!

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  2. Sounds like a very powerful read. Did you recently change your review format? I love it.

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    1. Only in that I don't seem to have much to say these days, so they're getting shorter! Or maybe because so much time passes in between reviews it seems new:-) Regardless, thanks!

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  3. Any book that will make you that emotional in the BEGINNING must be good!!!

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    1. Yes! And in public no less. It had that intensity of The Hurt Locker at first. It's gripping.

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  4. I hadn't heard much about this one, and I am glad to have read your review. It seems to me that this one packs an extreme emotional punch, and that it really grabs you by the heartstrings. I clearly need to read this one at some point. I might even hop over to the library site and see if they have it on audio. Nice review today!

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  5. I haven't given this one much attention, as I tend to shy away from books dealing with war. However, this sounds amazing. Great storytelling is always a treat no matter what the topic.

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  6. Quiet, moving, and deeply haunting? I have to read this one!

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  7. Great review! You've made me definitely want to read this one in the new year, though it does sound heartbreaking and difficult to read.

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  8. I have been interested in this one, but also scared to read it because of the violence.

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!