The Yellow Birds
By Kevin Powers
(Little, Brown and Company, Hardcover, 9780316219365, 240pp.)
Publication Date: September 11, 2012
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A novel written by a veteran of the war in Iraq, The Yellow Birds is the harrowing story of two young soldiers trying to stay alive.
"The war tried to kill us in the spring." So begins this powerful account of friendship and loss. In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city. Bound together since basic training when Bartle makes a promise to bring Murphy safely home, the two have been dropped into a war neither is prepared for.
In the endless days that follow, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that press in on every side: the insurgents, physical fatigue, and the mental stress that comes from constant danger. As reality begins to blur into a hazy nightmare, Murphy becomes increasingly unmoored from the world around him and Bartle takes actions he could never have imagined.
With profound emotional insight, especially into the effects of a hidden war on mothers and families at home, The Yellow Birds is a groundbreaking novel that is destined to become a classic.
Kevin Powers is the author of The Yellow Birds, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Guardian First Book Award, and was a National Book Award Finalist. He was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, and holds an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a Michener Fellow in Poetry. He served in the US Army in 2004 and 2005 in Iraq, where he was deployed as a machine gunner in Mosul and Tal Afar. This is his first collection of poetry.
- Discuss the title, The Yellow Birds, and the U.S. Army marching cadence that inspired it. What does the cadence mean to you? How does the cadence and the title influence your reading of the book?
"A remarkable first novel...The Yellow Birds is brilliantly observed and deeply affecting: at once a freshly imagined bildungsroman about a soldier's coming of age, a harrowing story about the friendship of two young men trying to stay alive on the battlefield in Iraq, and a philosophical parable about the loss of innocence and the uses of memory...Extraordinary."—Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"The Yellow Birds might just be the first American literary masterpiece produced by the Iraq war."—Los Angeles Times
"An elegiac, sober, and haunting coming-of-age war story."—TIME
"The first great Iraq War novel."—Darren Reidy, Rolling Stone
"A first novel as compact and powerful as a footlocker full of ammo....Kevin Powers has something to say, something deeply moving about the frailty of man and the brutality of war, and we should all lean closer and listen."—Benjamin Percy, New York Times Book Review
"An exquisite excavation of the war's moral and psychological wreckage. Powers evokes the peculiar smell and feel of the war better than any journalist."—The New Yorker
"Darkly beautiful....How to tell a true war story if you're more a poet than a novelist? Tell it as a poet would. Tell it as Kevin Powers does."—Alan Cheuse, NPR's All Things Considered
"A novel of grit, grace, and blood by an Iraq war veteran....Kevin Powers moves gracefully between spare, factual description of the soldiers' work to simple, hard-won reflections on the meaning of war."—Ron Charles, Washington Post
"An unusually spare and lyrical war story....The characters are sketched with as much heart as economy...Like the Iraq heat, which 'had the surprising effect of reducing one to tears in an instant,' The Yellow Birds skulks along, detached and undemanding, until all of a sudden you turn a page and find yourself weeping."—GQ
"The All Quiet on the Western Front of America's Arab wars."—Tom Wolfe
"The Yellow Birds is harrowing, inexplicably beautiful, and utterly, urgently necessary."—Ann Patchett
"Veteran Kevin Powers's searing debut novel brings the Iraq War home in compelling detail....The Yellow Birds is luminous...an indispensable portrait of the Iraq War and its impact of those who fought it."—Men's Journal
"Kevin Powers' The Yellow Birds is written with an intensity which is deeply compelling; every moment, every memory, every object, every move, are conjured up with a fierce and exact concentration and sense of truth."—Colm Toibin
"This is a novel I've been waiting for. The Yellow Birds is born from experience and rendered with compassion and intelligence."—Alice Sebold
"Compelling, brilliantly written, and heart-breakingly true, The Yellow Birds belongs in the same category as Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried and Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead. Thus far the definitive novel of our long wars in the Middle East; this book is certain to be read and taught for generations to come."—Philipp Meyer, author of American Rust
"Reading The Yellow Birds I became certain that I was in the presence of a text that will win plaudits, become a classic, and hold future narratives of the war to a higher standard....a superb literary achievement."—Chris Cleave
"Powers has created a powerful work of art that captures the complexity and life altering realities of combat service. This book will endure. Read it and then put it way up on that high rare shelf alongside Ernest Hemingway and Tim O'Brien."—Anthony Swofford
"We haven't just been waiting for a great novel to come out of the Iraq War, our 21st century Vietnam; we have also been waiting for something more important, a work of art that illuminates our flawed and complex and striving humanity behind all such wars. At last we have both in Kevin Powers' The Yellow Birds."—Robert Olen Butler
"A classic....Powers's first novel is full of boys, bile, bark, bodies and bewilderment....shows Powers's power to build suspense with substance and sensitivity."--Military Times
"Every sentence of The Yellow Birds is something to marvel over, the words flashing and chiming like spent brass casings. Kevin Powers, who served as an Army machine gunner, has written one of the best books of the year, what could become the definitive novel about Iraq."--Benjamin Percy, Esquire
"In the great tradition of Hemingway and Tim O'Brien, Kevin Powers's exquisitely written The Yellow Birds draws us in to the combat zones of Iraq: the watch, the wait ("Stay alive, Stay alert"), the bungle, the slaughter, and the irreparable aftermath."—Edna O'Brien
"Remarkable for its intensity of both feeling and expression. In this book about death, every line is a defiant assertion of the power of beauty to revivify, whether beauty shows itself in nature or (later) in art. Graves, Owen, and Sassoon would have recognised this war and the strange poetry it has bred."—Hilary Mantel