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The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

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The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Post by annis » Sat November 17th, 2012, 11:53 pm

Darknesse and light divide the course of time, and oblivion snares with memory…
Sir Thomas Browne

This haunting and disturbing début novel takes us into the very heart (and inside the head) of war’s madness. Faced with a nowhere future in rural Virginia, young John Bartle signs up with the US Army during the Iraq War. He’s looking for a bit of patriotic excitement, but soon finds himself in the middle of his own horror movie; a bizarre version of Groundhog Day.

This is a war where anyone might be a potential enemy – even the dead can be used as weapons – and no resolution is ever achievable.

“I thought of my grandfather’s war. How they had destinations and purpose. How the next day we’d march out under a sun hanging low in the plains in the east. We’d go back into a city that had fought this battle yearly; a slow, bloody parade in fall to mark the change of season. We’d drive them out. We always had. We’d kill them. They’d shoot us and blow off our limbs and run into the hills and wadis, back into the alleys and dusty villages. Then they’d come back, and we’d start all over by waving to them as they leaned against lampposts and unfurled green awnings while drinking tea in front of their shops. While we patrolled the streets, we’d throw candy to their children with whom we’d fight in the fall a few more years from now”.

Powers vividly captures Bartle's sense of dislocation and separation from self; the dictates of heart and mind subsumed to pure instinct. A small, distant part of himself watches with detached dismay as he shoots young boys and grandmothers, but at the same time his hand is clamped inexorably on the trigger of his gun. His world alternates between a highly adrenalized battle-ready state where every detail has an intense clarity, and static periods of waiting where he seeks escape in drink and sleep. His relationships with his ticking-time-bomb sergeant and his vulnerable friend Murphy are the only constants in a surreal existence.

Home is a far-off dream, the past a place he can never revisit as the person he once was. “I moved to the edge of the bridge and began firing at anything moving. I saw one man fall in a heap near the bank of the river among the bulrushes and green fields on its edges. In that moment I disowned the waters of my youth. My memories of them became a useless luxury, their names as foreign as any that could be found in Nineveh: the Tigris or the Chesapeake, the James or the Shatt al Arab further to the south, all belonged to someone else and perhaps had never really been my own. I was an intruder, at best a visitor, and would be even in my own home…” When he does finally return, he is an alien, a ghost, unable to reconnect with old familiar people and places. All he wants is surcease from his own endlessly recycled memories; the peace of oblivion.

An astonishingly visceral and candid evocation of combat-induced post-traumatic stress, Yellow Birds is a gem, written with spare, lyrical eloquence, but it’s a sharply faceted gem with cutting edges, shining a discomforting light on things we’d rather not see and places we’d rather not be; the forgotten human costs of a war initiated by higher powers for dubious reasons, and another sobering reminder that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Kevin Powers on The Yellow Birds at the Guardian: 'I felt those things, and asked the same questions'
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/no ... llow-birds
Last edited by annis on Fri November 30th, 2012, 4:05 am, edited 55 times in total.

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