The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
Little Brown and Company, New York 2012
Borrowed from my library. Nominated for the National Book Award.
Kevin Powers is an Iraq veteran and a poet. His novel about two young friends fighting together in the second Iraq war is beautifully written. It is also devastating.
At basic training John Bartle takes Daniel Murphy under his wing and makes a promise to Murph’s mother. When they reach the city of Al Tafar, John realizes that the promise may be impossible to keep.
We hardly noticed a change when September came. But I know now that everything that will ever matter in my life began then. Perhaps light came a little more slowly to the city of Al Tafar, falling the way it did beyond thin shapes of rooflines and angled promenaded in the dark. It fell over buildings in the city , white and tan, made of clay bricks, roofed with corrugated metal or concrete. The sky was vast and catacombed with clouds. A cool breeze blew down from the distant hillsides we’d been patrolling all year. It passed over the minarets that rose above the citadel, flowed down through alleys that ringed the city, and finally broke up against the scattered dwellings from which our rifles bristled. Our platoon moved around our rooftop position, gray streaks against the predawn light. It was still late summer then, a Sunday, I think. We waited. From pages 4/5.
Poetic, lyrical and deeply moving, this one will stay with me for a long time.
The Yellow Birds has been compared to All Quiet on the Western Front and The Things They Carried. It meets and matches them and also reminds me of the importance of reading other books on war. I would suggest Dispatches, On Killing and War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning as a place to start.