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.

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Winter of the World – the century-long tale that keeps getting better

Winter of the World - Ken FollettFittingly, shortly after winter began, I decided to start reading Winter of the World, the second book in Ken Follett’s The Century Trilogy.

This tome is the follow up to Follett’s Fall of Giants which made my Top Five Books of 2011 and takes place during the events of The Second World War. The characters from the first novel have become secondary, and their children now have the spotlight as they deal with the uprising and reign of Hitler, Stalin, Franco and the Empire of Japan.

Compared to the first book, Follett continues his marvelous intertwining of real life historical events with fictional characters who are often present to give a unique perspective of Pearl Harbor, A-bomb testing, or war in Spain, Germany and Russa to name a few examples. Through his incredible knowledge and research, I ended up feeling like these people really existed in these times and played active roles in many aspects of the war.

It might have been that I knew what to expect, but this book was much easier to read, though with the amount of characters we have to follow it can get a bit confusing at times, especially since I hadn’t read the first in two years. Once I got around that, the characters all have a lot of depth to them, and I cared what happened in each of their stories, which is of course very important if you want to get invested in a book.

If you’re a fan of historical fiction you’ll want to pick up this series, just be prepared to be reading for quite a while if you’re a slow reader like me. I give Winter of the World 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.

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