The Yellow Birds
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?
"The book is so heartfelt and so good that it not only reaffirms the power of fiction to tell the truth about the unspeakable, but also asks serious questions of a generation of writers--myself included--who have thus far avoided addressing these disastrous wars directly. 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. Impeccably structured and told with the poetry of a master, I often had to put the book down, close my eyes and savour the depth of the writing. Comparisons with Hemingway will be inevitable because of the brevity and economical style, and with Cormac McCarthy because of the author's talent for landscape. But Powers builds on this literary foundation to create a style of his own. He writes without hauteur, and his insights into the post-traumatic condition have a degree of sharpness that frequently subvert the classical mode of his storytelling and leave the reader with heart hammering. This is a superb literary achievement. I urge everyone to read it."—Chris Cleave, author of Little Bee
"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
"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. The music of his prose has an exquisite mixture of control and then release which mirrors the action of the book, and the psychological and physical pressures under which the characters are placed."—Colm Toibin