Summary and book reviews of The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

The Yellow Birds

A Novel

by Kevin Powers

The Yellow Birds
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2012, 240 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2013, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Book Summary

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 about the costs of war that is destined to become a classic.

"The war tried to kill us in the spring," begins this breathtaking 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. 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.

Bound together since basic training when their tough-as-nails Sergeant ordered Bartle to watch over Murphy, the two have been dropped into a war neither is prepared for. As reality begins to blur into a hazy nightmare, Murphy becomes increasingly unmoored from the world around him and Bartle takes impossible actions.

With profound emotional insight, especially into the effects of a hidden war on mothers and families at home, The Yellow Birds a groundbreaking novel about the costs of war that is destined to become a classic.

Excerpt 1

The war tried to kill us in the spring. As grass greened the plains of Nineveh and the weather warmed, we patrolled the low-slung hills beyond the cities and towns. We moved over them and through the tall grass on faith, kneading paths into the windswept growth like pioneers. While we slept, the war rubbed its thousand ribs against the ground in prayer. When we pressed onward through exhaustion, its eyes were white and open in the dark. While we ate, the war fasted, fed by its own deprivation. It made love and gave birth and spread through fire.

Then, in summer, the war tried to kill us as the heat blanched all color from the plains. The sun pressed into our skin, and the war sent its citizens rustling into the shade of white buildings. It cast a white shade on everything, like a veil over our eyes. It tried to kill us every day, but it had not succeeded. Not that our safety was preordained. We were not destined to survive. The fact is we were not destined at all. The ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Discuss the title, The Yellow Birds, and the U.S. Army marching cadence that inspired it. What does the ca- dence mean to you? How does the cadence and the title influence your reading of the book?
  2. John Bartle and Daniel Murphy first meet when Sergeant Sterling orders them to work as a team. From that moment on, they spend every minute together. How does their relationship evolve, and how is it shaped by the war? In what ways do you read The Yellow Birds as a novel about friendship?
  3. The story unfolds in a nonlinear narrative, with scenes alternating between Bartle's time as a soldier at war and Bartle's time as a veteran. What effect do you think this structure achieves? Is the story better told this way than ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

I can't think of a book in my experience that has elicited such an overwhelmingly visceral reaction, and certainly none that have had such an enormous impact on my view of the effects of war. It's one of those once-in-a-lifetime reading encounters that I am certain will remain a permanent part of my consciousness.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review Members Only (796 words).

Media Reviews

The New York Times

A remarkable first novel...The Yellow Birds is brilliantly observed and deeply affecting: at once a freshly imagined bildungsroman about a soldier's coming of age, a harrowing story 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...Extraordinary.

Library Journal

Thoughtful and analytical, the novel resonates as an accurate and deeply felt portrayal of the effects of post-combat syndrome as experienced by soldiers in the disorienting war in Iraq.

Kirkus Reviews

Powers writes with a rawness that brings the sights and smells as well as the trauma and decay of war home to the reader.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This moving debut from Powers is a study of combat, guilt, and friendship forged under fire.

Author Blurb Philipp Meyer, author of American Rust
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.

Author Blurb Ann Patchett
The Yellow Birds is harrowing, inexplicably beautiful, and utterly, urgently necessary.

Author Blurb Colm Toibin
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.

Reader Reviews

Dorothy L

Amazing Book that is a Must Read for Everyone
Let me begin by saying that I rarely read books about war. I first heard of Yellow Birds when I read a glowing review in the NY Times. I have always felt that the war in Iraq is unlike the Vietnam War when there was a draft and bodies being ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Kevin Powers, the Poet

Kevin Powers started writing poems and stories at about the age of 13. He began writing poetry about war a year or two after his discharge from the Army as a way to process his own experiences while in Iraq, and eventually decided to take classes to develop his talents. Powers graduated in 2008 with a bachelor's degree in English from Virginia Commonwealth University and received his M.F.A. in Poetry from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin in 2012. His poems have appeared in the New Orleans Review, Poetry, and The New York Quarterly.



Great Plain

Here is where appreciation starts: the Iraqi boy
in a dusty velour tracksuit almost getting shot.
When I say boy, I mean it. When I say almost
getting shot,...

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