The Yellow Birds Book Review

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. 

Plot Summary

The Yellow Birds Book

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. 

Beautiful Ruins Book Review

Hollywood’s Allure in Beautiful Ruins 

Hollywood is often associate with glamor and glitz. Actors and actresses are known to live lavishly. In fact, for many, Hollywood represents the ultimate in luxury. While it is the case that Hollywood is glamorous, it should be understood that the image that individuals often see is often overly edited and incomplete. It does not capture the true depths of Hollywood. What is sadder is that the literary community has not done much to provide a more accurate depiction of the Hollywood life. Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins is among the few works that offer readers an unadulterated, objective and accurate portrayal of the reality of Hollywood.

Beautiful Ruins Synopsis

However detailed, no summary of the Beautiful Ruins can do this book justice. The novel is detailed, multi-faceted, and immensely dynamic. Still, it is indeed possible to develop a synopsis that captures the gist of the book. This novel is about the lives of Hollywood actors, actresses, script writers, and producers, among many others. As opposed to other authors who dominate their works with their own voices, Walter steps back and allows the different characters to speak for themselves. This is indeed an effective approach as it makes the entire book feel more personal, honest, and intimate.

The book is structured in terms of what read like chapters, with each chapter dedicated to the life of a particular character. Richard Burton and Michael Deane are among the specific characters who make an appearance in the book. As opposed to films which tend to portray actors and actresses as flawlessly gorgeous, Beautiful Ruins is harsher in how it presents them. For example, in its description of Deane, the book makes references to the many cosmetic procedures that he has undergone to the point that he looks like a Filipino girl.

The events in Beautiful Ruins are set across multiple locations. The book sets sail at a luxury hotel in Porto Vergogna, along the Italian coast. Here, readers are introduced to Dee Moray, a young American actress who has been diagnosed with cancer. Moray is just one of numerous actors and actresses whose experiences make up the plot of the novel. Each of the characters is presented as struggling with some hardship. While one actor is dealing with alcoholism, another writer is struggling to find acceptance in an industry that is superficial and exclusive. 

Themes and Messages in Beautiful Ruins

As opposed to Hollywood which tends to be shallow and empty, Beautiful Ruins is loaded with messages and themes. Perhaps the most important message that readers take away from the book is that Hollywood is often misrepresented. For example, according to Walter, people working in Hollywood struggle with such hardships as substance use, terminal illnesses, and rejection. By changing the narrative about Hollywood, the book humanizes this industry, enabling readers to appreciate the fallibility, inadequacy and flaws of their favorite actors and actresses.

That it is difficult to find success in Hollywood is another theme that Beautiful Ruins is bold enough to confront. After reading the book, individuals are left with the understanding that out of ten people who pursue their dreams in Hollywood, only one succeeds. According to this book, success is so elusive that those with big dreams should chase them elsewhere. The book helps readers to sympathize with the actors and actresses who commit tremendous effort but fail to achieve recognition.

Not all of the issues that Beautiful Ruins tackles are serious. Perhaps out of fear that he would bore his audience, Walter also addresses issues like love that are more likely to appeal to the masses. For example, he introduces various characters who engage in relentless and inspiring quests for love. Since these characters are modelled on real Hollywood actors and actresses, it is clear that the message that Walter sought to communicate is that even the famous yearn for love and their spirits seek company. Essentially, Walter assures his readers that Hollywood is made up of people who are desperate in their yearning for acceptance and love.

The courage that is needed to find satisfaction and fulfills one’s purpose is another subject that readers should prepare themselves for. Claire, Deane’s assistant is the main character that Walter uses to show that it is impossible to accomplish one’s vision without courage. Surrounded by successful actors and actresses, Claire wonders whether she will be able to bring her own films to the Hollywood stage. Her anxieties as well as her dreams serve as symbols of the boldness that is required for success. 

Why Beautiful Ruins is different

There are countless documentaries and books that explore the reality of Hollywood. This fact raises the question of why readers should learn about Hollywood from Walter. Well, to begin with, Walter does not impose his ideas on readers. Technically, given that he authored the book, the ideas that it conveys are indeed his. However, by presenting them through the voices of various characters, he injects a raw and reliable tone into the book. Basically, readers feel that they are hearing from actual writers, actors, and actresses themselves.

It is all about style!

The unusual style that Walter adopts is another issue that earns Beautiful Ruins the privilege to be read. He combines multiple voices and perspectives to deliver a unified and coherent vision. When another author uses this style, what is likely to emerge is a messy patchwork of unrelated stories. Walter has mastered this technique and he uses it to share various stories while presenting a common message that readers will be sure to take home.

In addition to the issues addressed above, Beautiful Ruins is also immensely deep and personal. It strives to establish an actual connection with readers. The book manages to draw readers in with captivating and moving narrations and monologues. It was indeed wise for Walter to step back and empower his characters to direct how their experiences are delivered. Given its effectiveness, the approach that he adopts should be embraced by other authors who are struggling to establish rapport with and gain the undivided attention of their audiences.

Humor in Beautiful Ruins

Humor is one of the literary elements that carry huge risks. In their attempts to be humorous, writers often end up offending their audiences. Walter shows that when used with restraint and wisdom, humor can have the intended effect. He employs humor to highlight the essence of the human condition. There are other moments where his use of humor is simply intended to get audiences to laugh. Beautiful Ruins is a model for funny storytelling that retains its seriousness while still being approachable, humble, and easy to read. 

Final Thoughts

Beautiful Ruins is not perfect. Far from it. For example, there are turns and twists that are rather distracting and do not add much value to the book. Such a flaw would doom the work of any other writer. Walter manages to redeem himself by providing readers with distractions that divert their attention away from the few mistakes and shortcomings. Beautiful Ruins is what beautiful and inspired writing should look like. More importantly, this book demonstrates that difficult and serious topics can be communicated in a fashion that is so engaging yet respectful. The book is awarded four out of five stars. It is denied one star because it is easily forgettable. 

MaddAddam Book Review

Margaret Atwood’s Genius in MaddAddam 

In a sea of mediocrity, Margaret Atwood always manages to rise above and establish herself as the ultimate symbol of innovation, boldness, and insight. She is most recognized for The Handmaid’s Tale, a captivating drama that imagines the US as a dystopian society. Those wishing to gain even deeper insights into Atwood’s creative depths must move with speed and read MaddAddam, the last of an exciting trilogy. In this novel, while she leaves some readers disappointed, Atwood reinvigorates interest in her work and demonstrates her versatility.

MaddAddam Plot Summary

As noted above, MaddAddam is the last of a three-part series that Atwood created. To make sense of this novel, readers must first read the first two. In the first book, Atwood introduces her universe and some characters. She describes a post-apocalyptic world that is ravaged by hopelessness, and a desperate attempt to re-establish civilization. The world is lawless as it reels from a viral pandemic that decimated much of the human population. Jimmy, one of the survivors is the main character in the first novel.

In the second part of the trilogy, Atwood describes events that follow from the first book. Special attention is given to a group of women living in a rundown neighborhood that is inhabited primarily by the poor. Furthermore, Atwood talks about a religious cult that emerges and promises redemption to those who accept its message. This second book serves to connect the first and the third by introducing even more characters and going into deeper detail about the conflicts and drama that characterize the apocalyptic new world.

MaddAddam picks up from the second book. Toby and Zeb, two of the main characters in the second book make a return to this novel.  These characters work together to redeem Amanda Payne, another survivor who works with Toby and Zeb in finding other survivors. Together, the survivors establish a camp from which they attempt to rebuild civilization. The novel shifts away from what transpires in the camp and focuses its attention on a cult that rejects environmental conservation while promoting corporate greed and consumerism. Zeb leads a campaign to expose this cult’s practices and engineer its collapse. 

What should reader expect?

Those unfamiliar with Atwood’s work should probably stay away from MaddAddam. To these readers, this novel will be confusing and frustrating to engage with. However, readers who have interacted with Atwood’s other works will find MaddAddam to be refreshingly familiar. In this novel, Atwood writes in the same style that readers have come to love. Her use of made-up and technical-sounding names is particularly interesting and is sure to excite readers. This style could even help the novel attract the interest and commitment of readers new to Atwood’s writing.

Readers should expect to encounter a bleak world from which they will struggle to escape. Atwood manages to present this world in a way that is not so menacing that it scares readers away. This world echoes some modern societies and contemporary concerns. For example, Atwood delicately captures how religious fundamentalism can stifle human progress and keep people chained to ignorance and servitude. The novel is essentially a commentary on the damage that extreme religious beliefs can cause.

It is indeed surprising that in her chaotic universe, Atwood still created room for the discussion of such issues as environmental protection. She does this through her focus on the cult that is staunchly opposed to environmental conservation and encourages such damaging practices as the adoption of petrol-powered processes. Through this cult, Atwood issues a comment on the need for greater commitment to securing the environment. She presents this message so slyly and subtly that none of her readers will find the message inappropriate, intrusive, or offensive.

The fact that humanity is so unstable that it could descend into chaos at any moment is another message that readers should be prepared to receive from Atwood. While it is true that the events and developments that she describes are highly unlikely to occur, it is difficult to dismiss them as improbable. For example, as of writing of this review, the world is grappling with a viral pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands and threatens the global economy. This pandemic shows that Atwood’s world is not a mere fictional universe; such a world could actually materialize. 

Why MaddAddam is worth your time

Atwood gives her target audience good and numerous reasons to read MaddAddam. As noted in a previous section, her incorporation of technical writing into the book is among these reasons. Essentially, Atwood relies on technical details to bring her universe to life. However, she understands that too many technical details could overwhelm her readers. This must be why she choose to keep these details to a minimum and instead focus the novel on the actual experiences of the characters. 

MaddAddam is worth the time of readers because it manages to distinguish itself from other books that address post-apocalyptic worlds. Such books are so many that the genre to which MaddAddam belongs has become saturated and even boring. Atwood refreshes this genre by creating an interesting world which combines unique characters with an exciting plot. Basically, Atwood demonstrates that even when she is working with over-used styles that have lost their charm and depth, she is still able to reel in her readers.

Atwood’s novel is also intriguing because it highlights the beauty of mankind. Whereas much of the book is depressing, it leaves readers with a feeling of relief and renewed love for humanity. This book makes it clear that while humans are capable of evil, they can also come together to exhibit what sets them apart from other species. MaddAddam is basically a celebration of humanity and will certainly renew the faiths of readers who feel that humanity is irredeemably evil. 

Is it really that good?

Despite the prowess that Atwood demonstrates, her book still has some flaws. Among these flaws is that she rehashes some literary elements that have been over-used. For example, the kind of names that she gives to places and organizations are so uninspired that they will definitely cause some readers to cringe. It is as though while writing the third book of the trilogy, Atwood had exhausted her creative reserves and she rushed to complete this book. Even with this problem, the book retains its depth and will still excite readers.

Another problem with MaddAddam is that it may be too complex for some readers. Even those who have already read the first two books will struggle to keep up. There are simply too many characters and an excessive number of plot directions that readers can easily lose their way. To derive the most from the book, readers must be patient and should be willing to return to earlier chapters to remind themselves of what the book is about.

In conclusion, MaddAddam belongs to a bloated and saturated genre. However, this book manages to draw attention thanks to the expertise, mastery and competence that Atwood is known for. Fans of fictional works that predict an apocalyptic universe will particularly love MaddAddam. It is with tremendous confidence and excitement that this book receives an endorsement and is recommended for all. Those familiar with Atwood’s incredible books should be particularly aggressive and enthusiastic in reading the book.