The Yellow Birds
By Kevin Powers
Little Brown and Company, 2012
Privates John Bartle and Daniel Murphy meet in 2003 at Fort Dix. Bartle is 21 and Murphy is 18. In 2004, they ship out to Al Faraf, Iraq where life becomes complicated, and Bartle has to live with a promise he made to Murphy’s mom to keep Murphy safe. Told from a close first person point of view, which alternates between scenes in Iraq and scenes after coming home, Bartle tells the story of his and Murphy’s time in Iraq.
This book is moving and insightful. I agree with other reviewers who have called The Yellow Birds the Iraq equivalent of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Powers writes with simple, yet poetic prose which taps into a deep emotional cord as he conveys the haunting details of war, some of which include counting the dead bodies Bartle and Murhpy see pile up in Iraq, drinking whiskey during battle and noting battle fronts that open annually as the seasons change. This is a powerful and personal story.
Powers was nominated for the National Book Award, won the Guardian First Book Award, and made it on many of the Best of 2012 lists. I wasn’t sure if I was going to read this book, as it has been reviewed in many blogs and periodicals, but it felt like a “must read” of 2012, and it completely lived up to all my expectations. Powers was a gunner in Iraq and this story feels very emotionally true. If you have a stomach for war stories, The Yellow Birds will not disappoint.