In 'The Yellow Birds,' veteran highlights emotional hardships of Iraq war

'The Yellow Birds' by Kevin Powers
Book cover courtesy of publisher

Iraq war veteran Kevin Powers' new novel, "The Yellow Birds," follows two young American soldiers as they try to stay alive in Al Tafar, Iraq.

Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times said the novel "stands with Tim O'Brien's enduring Vietnam book, 'The Things They Carried,' as a classic of contemporary war fiction."

More from The New York Times:

"The Yellow Birds" is brilliantly observed and deeply affecting: at once a freshly imagined story about a soldier's coming of age, a harrowing tale 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. Its depiction of war has the surreal kick of Mr. O'Brien's 1978 novel, "Going After Cacciato," and a poetic pointillism distinctly its own; they combine to sear images into the reader's mind with unusual power.

The story line of the novel isn't closely related to his own experiences, Powers told GQ.

"Really what I was trying to get at was some sort of emotional core," he said. "In terms of survivor's guilt, even though I never lost anybody as close to me as the character in the book, when I came home there was definitely a period, particularly with the war still going on and with people still dying, the question become unavoidable: Why did I survive? Why didn't these other people? I'm clearly no more worthy of surviving as these people, perhaps in some cases less so. Who knows if one of those guys might have cured cancer? You absolutely start to wonder if it's purely chance."

Watch Conversation: Kevin Powers, Author of 'The Yellow Birds' on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.


Writing differently about war, but drawing from the same rich vein.
"Because I am an observer by nature, physical details and sensory stuff in the book is often drawn from my recollections, but I tried to include those details in such a way that I didn't ignore my suspicions about the fragility or unreliable nature of them. I'm always most interested in writing about things that I don't understand." (New York Times)

Kevin Powers and The Yellow Birds: What were we doing there?
"Why am I here? I mean, knowing that my job as a soldier was to kill people. Ultimately, if you're wearing the uniform, if you're carrying a weapon, that's what your job comes down to. And it was so staggering to me in that moment. But then that moment passed, and moments like that would come and go." (Radio Open Source)

An Iraq Veteran's Novel Gives a View from the Inside.
"'The Yellow Birds' is an elegaic, sober and haunting coming-of-age war story." (Time)

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