Paperback review: The Yellow Birds, By Kevin Powers


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The Independent Culture

Powers's extraordinary first novel was inspired by his own experiences as an American machine gunner in Iraq, and from its opening line: "The war tried to kill us in the spring", to its last, moving image, it holds true to Hemingway's principles about writing a "true sentence".

Bartle is a young US soldier, haunted by the death of his close friend, Murph, during the war, especially after making a promise to Murph's mother to watch the younger man's back. Powers weaves back and forth between Bartle's present mental condition as he's holed up in Germany, and the events that took place in Iraq. The sacred and the profane jostle for position as Bartle tries to make sense of his life, and obtain forgiveness for his friend's death. A remarkable, beautifully understated, powerful, yet poised novel.