The Yellow Birds: Brave and Forgotten
The US has gained notoriety for involvement in violent conflict in foreign lands. At present, thousands of the country’s soldiers are stationed in various countries across the globe. When they are deployed, these soldiers are often assured that they are playing a crucial role in keeping the country secure. While the US is loud in its proclamation of this role, it does not properly demonstrate its appreciation for its brave and self-less soldiers. In particular, the country has failed to provide soldiers returning from war with the support they desperately need. The Yellow Birds explores these uneasy aspects of our history
Kevin Powers is among the many authors who have written about war and the damage that it does. However, unlike the other writers whose works are rather forgettable, Powers’ novel The Yellow Birds manages to keep the attention and commitment of readers. Focusing on how wars impact soldiers, this book humanizes military personnel who suffer untold anguish while their efforts are not fully recognized. Anyone reading the book will be disgusted and disappointed by America’s failure to do more to secure the wellbeing of its soldiers.
Offering a plot summary is a natural starting point for any good review. At the center of The Yellow Birds are three soldiers who are deployed as part of the American contingent that occupies Iraq. These soldiers are Sergeant Sterling, John Bartle, and Daniel Murphy. Whereas Sterling is an experienced veteran, Murphy is a new soldier who needs help embracing his new reality of war. He receives this help from Bartle who is charged with the responsibility of guiding and ensuring the safety of Murphy.
Having introduced the three soldiers, the novel proceeds to describe their interactions and experiences. Powers notes that initially Bartle rejected the assignment of protecting and guiding Murphy. However, after some persuasion, the two develop a close friendship. As the story progresses, Powers reveals to readers that Bartle is unable to protect Murphy who dies after veering off from the camp in Iraq. Together with Sergeant Sterling, Bartle dumps Murphy’s body into a river. The death of Murphy leaves Bartle feeling devastated as he blames himself and agonizes over his failure to offer proper protection.
In the latter chapters of Powers’ novel, focus shifts to how Bartle attempts to cope with the damage that the war has had on his life. He avoids human contact and plunges himself into alcoholism. He is arrested and charged with failing to provide information about Murphy’s death. Also dealing with guilt is Sergeant Sterling who finds the anguish to be unbearable and decides to end his life. The novel concludes with Bartle making progress in finding peace, forgiving himself and beginning to heal.
Yellow Birds key takeaways
There are some writers who are so arrogant that they invite readers with hefty promises only to waste their time. Powers respects his readers too much to commit such an atrocity. All those who read the book take some message home. Among the main takeaways of the book is the damage that war causes. The novel shows that as they are sent out to kill civilians and tackle militant groups, soldiers experience horrors and sustain wounds that may never heal. This novel could help the US to develop defense policies that prioritize the wellbeing of its soldiers.
Another takeaway that readers carry home concerns the mental health implications of military service. Through the lives of the three soldiers, the novel indicates that military deployment could expose soldiers to the risk of such mental illnesses as depression, trauma and anxiety. Left unaddressed, these illnesses become so deeply entrenched that they leave soldiers feeling empty. In fact, if the illnesses are not treated in good time, soldiers may find them to be so unbearable that they choose to end their misery through suicide.
The need for soldiers returning home to be provided with support and resources is yet another message that Powers conveys in his novel. For example, he narrates that Bartle stayed clear of other people and sought solitude. As a result, he sank deeper into depression and alcoholism. It is clear that by giving special attention to Bartle’s struggles, Powers set out to demonstrate that soldiers need support. The US needs to show greater appreciation for the sacrifices that its soldiers continue to make.
The role that forgiveness and validation plays in helping soldiers to heal is another message that readers will draw from Powers’ The Yellow Birds. For example, the book shows that Bartle was only able to begin the journey toward healing after he forgave himself for lying about how they handled Murphy’s body. Soldiers in similar positions who relive the horrors of war and desperately desire peace can achieve healing through forgiveness. They must forgive themselves and recognize that they were mere pawns in a very complex game.
Standout features of The Yellow Birds
There are a number of things that Powers does so well that they inject tremendous interest and life into The Yellow Birds. The sobriety with which he approaches the subject of the novel is among these things. Instead of relying on drama, Powers uses his storytelling competence to expose his readers to the realities of armed conflict. The novel reads like a documentary which seeks to inform and enlighten.
How it humanizes soldiers is another issue that allows The Yellow Birds to resonate with readers. Many readers will approach the novel with the notion that soldiers are hardened and invincible. This book challenges this notion by shedding light on the many struggles that soldiers experience. For example, the novel shows that soldiers also deal with depression, guilt and alcoholism. By presenting soldiers as broken human beings, the book places readers in a position from which they are able to understand and sympathize with the people who risk their lives to secure the country against external and domestic threats.
The poetic tone that Powers adopts for the novel adds to the strength and appeal of this book. As noted above, he is very sober in his description of the lives of soldiers. However, he also introduces some poetic elements to draw readers who are more interested in poetic works that feed their spirits. For example, through his poetic approach, Powers is able to present death as both a tragedy and an escape for those for whom living has become unbearable. Even as he integrates poetic elements, Powers see to it that these elements do not distract readers from his main message. The balance that he is able to achieve is remarkable.
Should you read it?
Powers’ The Yellow Birds gets as close to perfection as possible. However, the book has some problems that must be addressed. The main limitation of this novel is that is seems to narrow in its description of the struggles of soldiers. For example, there is little mention of the personal relationships that the soldiers have beyond their jobs. Essentially, the book depicts soldiers as mere agents of war who do not value relationships.
Any reader who can should give The Yellow Birds a chance. This book promises to change their perspectives and broaden their understanding of armed conflicts. However, there are some readers who may find the novel to be too heavy and overwhelming. Such readers should simply stay away. The book is for readers who are confident that they can stomach and even grow from narrations regarding human tragedy and pain.