“...the war came to me in my dreams and showed me its sole purpose: to go on, only to go on.” - Private John Bartle, Narrator, The Yellow Birds
According to New York Times journalist Chris Hedges and author of What Every Person Should Know About War (2003), there have been a mere 268 years of peace in the roughly 3,400 years of recorded human history, a trend that gives no indication of ending any time soon, if ever. Even if Mr. Hedges’ calculation is somewhat inaccurate, it is clear that the specter of war has shadowed the world for as long as the human has been walking.
The United States as a nation finds itself today in the state of war, something that can all too easily be forgotten in the hectic modern life that civilians lead – there are bills to be paid, careers to be lead, children to rear, etc. This, however, is not the case for either veterans or active duty personnel, as Kevin Powers illustrates in his 2012 debut novel, The Yellow Birds; Mr. Powers served in Iraq with the U.S. Army in 2004 and 2005.
I am a civilian and have never served in any department of the armed services, and I, too, find myself forgetting, at times, that there are Americans who are fighting abroad, but regardless of whether one supports or opposes the war that is being fought, people are dying, and I believe it important to listen to the stories of those involved, and fiction is a powerful means by which these tales can be conveyed.
While the characters and plot of The Yellow Birds are fictitious, the story that unfolds is both believable and moving. Mr. Powers pens impressive prose that provides the reader with a glimpse of what combat in Iraq was like for the American soldier in the mid-2000's and the effects that this can have on the individual long after he or she has returned home.
“To say what happened, the mere facts, the disposition of events in time, would come to seem like a kind of treachery. The dominoes of moments, lined up symmetrically, then tumbling backward against the hazy and unsure push of cause, showed only that a fall is every object's destiny. It is not enough to say what happened. Everything happened. Everything fell.” - Private John Bartle, Narrator, The Yellow Birds
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