There is something about war that fascinates me and it is not the strategy or politics, although I do find those elements interesting. I am intrigued and captivated by what makes an individual endure the worst humankind can throw at them and throw it back. What makes a person volunteer to do this and what is the cost? Non fiction, both memoir and history, can paint a compelling canvas but there is nothing like war fiction that drills deep down into the human psyche of war and it’s complete and utter destruction of the physical, psychological and spiritual.
The Yellow Birds is gut-wrenchingly beautiful. Which sounds odd for a novel about war but Kevin Powers is able to evocatively capture not only what is happening to the physical landscape of the novel but also the mental landscape. I have never read a book that captures the disintegration of humanity but also the power of humanity quite like The Yellow Birds. It has been compared to some classics of war fiction (The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien & The Naked and The Dead by Norman Mailer) but I think it sits comfortably out on its own.
The novel is narrated by Private John Bartle and is essentially the story about how his friend and comrade in arms, Daniel Murphy, is killed during the war in Iraq. The story jumps between the days leading up to Murph’s death and how John tries to deal with the consequences and the aftermath.
This book left me reeling when I’d finished it and even now writing this review when I pick up the book I am overwhelmed with emotions. I honestly feel like rereading it right now. Kevin Powers served in Iraq and I shudder to think about what is real and what is imagined in this book.
It is amazing that after so little being published in the war fiction genre for the last twenty years we have recently seen Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes and this year another powerful book about the war in Iraq, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain. Each is thought provoking and each incredibly moving but where Matterhorn is epic and encompassing and Billy Lynn is satirical and pointed, The Yellow Birds is personal and intimate in a way that you will never forget. It is still burning its way into me and will continue to for a very long time to come.
Classification: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
Format: Paperback (17mm x 130mm x 197mm)
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 27-Jun-2013
Country of Publication: United Kingdom