“The Yellow Birds: A Novel” is the semi-autobiographical story of 21-year-old Private John Bartle and 18-year-old Private Daniel Murphy during their tour of duty in Al-Tafar, Iraq. Although these two men did not know each other prior to the war, they forge a close bond that only soldiers are able to understand. Before deployment, Bartle makes a promise to Murphy’s mother that he will keep Murphy safe. The novel moves seamlessly between different years, from the horrors in Iraq to Bartle’s return to his hometown of Richmond, Va. The beautiful prose all works up to uncovering the mystery of Bartle’s promise and how it ended up.
At times, this novel is difficult to read — not so much because of graphic images — but more due to the realization of the intense emotional trauma these men are subjected to each day. Upon Bartle’s release from the Army, it’s obvious that his mental state isn’t stable. He is desperately depressed and lost in a world now unknown to him. The heartbreaking description of Bartle and Murphy’s experiences captures the essence of their pain in a way I’ve never experienced before. If only for a moment, it made me feel truly capable of imagining what it might be like to serve in combat.
Lesson Learned: In the second-to-last page of this novel, the author, Powers, is able to capture what I believe is the overarching truth he wants us to understand.
“I do feel ordinary again. I guess every day becomes habitual. The details of the world in which we live are always secondary to the fact that we must live in them. So I’m ordinary, except for a few peculiarities that I will probably always carry with me,” Bartle narrates in the novel.
I believe through this quote, Powers, who sees himself as Bartle, wants the reader to understand that even after all the horrific and terrifying experiences he has had to endure and witness, his life as a soldier can only have so much power over the rest of his life. This was especially meaningful to me because, as a survivor of meningitis and an amputee, I will always have memories I wish I could forget, but just like anyone else who has had to deal with a traumatic experience, the fact that we have no choice but to keep going remains. That doesn’t mean moving forward will always be easy, but you can only stand still for so long before the life finally gives you the push you’ve been dreading. Powers is able to show readers that no matter what, life goes on.blog comments powered by Disqus