The Yellow Birds: A glimpse into the Iraq war

The Yellow Birds

For whatever reason, books taking place outside the first or second world war generally haven’t been able to interest me that much. The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, however, was an exception, and I decided to read it on a whim.

The main character is 21 year old Private Bartle, who is fighting in the Iraq war and his experience looking out for 18 year old Private Murphy, who latches on quite early from their basic-training days, but through their experiences becomes a friend.

Powers draws on his personal experiences as a gunner in Iraq, specifically in Al Tafar, and his background in poetry, which clearly comes through in his writing. At first it was tough for me to get into, as I much prefer a story with more dialogue versus this very descriptive style, but as I became aware of the type of story being told, it made a lot more sense.

If you look at the reviews on Goodreads,  you’ll see mixed opinions on Powers’ writing, as well as his non-linear style of storytelling. From chapter-to-chapter, we jump back-and-forth from Bartle’s experiences in Iraq, to his post-war attempted re-acclimation to society. Like his writing style, I found this to be difficult at first, but as the story progressed, I found each chapter fed into the next, intertwining the two timelines and giving the reader a better understanding of Bartle’s conflicts, post-war.

In the end I was happy I took a chance on this one and though the book was small, and the story wasn’t terribly flashy, it got the point of what a soldier goes through during and after a war, and the tough decisions they must face in a chaotic environment where the wrong decision or a mistake means death, and survival is the goal of each day. I give The Yellow Birds a 4/5.

Fall of Giants: A giant novel worth reading

Ken Follett’s fictional account of the events that lead up to-, the battles of-, and after effects of the First World War, felt like a historic retelling of one of the major cultural turning points of the modern era.

Fall of Giants is the first in a series of epic novels that, through fictional characters and representations of actual ones, takes the reader through 13 1/2 years of wars, revolutions and cultural movements. The characters span across the globe in five different families (American, German, Russian, English and Welsh). Each of the people introduced in the book cross paths at one point or another, whether it be an American diplomat coming to the aide of two Russian slum-raised teenagers, or Ethel the former housewife of Earl Fitzherbert of her village rising up in the political ranks and making an adversary of him in the process.

Follett tells these individual stories, and many others with great attention to detail and with much research to backup the historical happenings of the time. I’ve said many times in my reviews that I’m more attached to novels that have a strong set of characters. I like to know as much about their lives as I possibly can like how their emotions handle different situations or in this case their political views. The characters are all pretty much set in their ways, so in terms of development, it doesn’t occur in most cases, but I feel for them when they’re defeated, even in the case of Earl Fitzherbert.

Another completely different picture of the war was painted for me after reading this. Follett is a respected author who has done many different war-themed novels, so I’m going to go out on a limb and trust the research he did into Fall of Giants. I kind of guessed much of what I knew about the war was propaganda and that it wasn’t the entire picture. Follett takes the reader into the mindset of the average labourer in England or Russia and shows just how conditions were for them, and why things happened the way they did. He also shows how the powers of the time dealt with the events leading up to the war, and eventually those that ended it.

It took me a long time to get through this 985 page beast, but I really enjoyed it. If you haven’t picked it up already I highly recommend you do so. I give Fall of Giants a 4/5.

My review of The Speaking Cure

Still slightly behind schedule but doing well regardless, The Speaking Cure by David Homel is book number nine in my “26 in 52 Challenge” where I try to read basically a book every two weeks this year.

The Speaking Cure was a book I picked up on a whim at BMV Books. I was going to only grab a few others, but the price point and intriguing story line caught my attention long enough for me to throw it on the pile.

The book follows Aleks Jovic, a clinical psychologist (not a doctor as he so often points out) who is unable to leave Yugoslavia, which is in the midst of a war. He is opposed to the war in its entirety but says his people are ones made for suffering; so much so they welcome it in their lives. Jovic is requisitioned by his government to help run a psychiatric clinic over the phone for soldiers in the field who wish to seek guidance. Though opposed to the idea of supporting the government in such a way, he’s resigned to his fate and reports for duty. Along with a relationship built up with one of his patients from his backroom private practice, the novel takes a look at the psychological impact of war and what standing up to those above you, in even the simplest way, like writing a novella, can help turn the mental tide.

I appreciate what the book offers readers and I was more than happy to jump at the chance to read something not about the Americans in World War II. However, something didn’t really click for me. The characters all had a bit of mystery to them, I understand that, but I felt a disconnect while reading. I didn’t seem to care what happened good or bad, because of that missing element.

If you’re into war books, or are connected to this specific war in any way, this may be a good read for you. For me, however, I would’ve passed if I had to pay full price. 2.5/5.

%d bloggers like this: