Author(s): Kevin Powers
Finalist for the National Book Award, The Yellow Birds is the harrowing story of two young soldiers trying to stay alive in Iraq
"The war tried to kill us in the spring." So begins this powerful account of friendship and loss. In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city. Bound together since basic training when Bartle makes a promise to bring Murphy safely home, the two have been dropped into a war neither is prepared for.
In the endless days that follow, the two young soldiers do everything to protect each other from the forces that press in on every side: the insurgents, physical fatigue, and the mental stress that comes from constant danger. As reality begins to blur into a hazy nightmare, Murphy becomes increasingly unmoored from the world around him and Bartle takes actions he could never have imagined.
With profound emotional insight, especially into the effects of a hidden war on mothers and families at home, The Yellow Birds is a groundbreaking novel that is destined to become a classic.
The Yellow Birds speaks of the plight of a young USA army private trying to make sense of his time served in Afghanistan. The brutality and moral dilemmas of his experiences are laid out in the most beautifully lyrical language. The contrast between brutal experience and superb language captures the banality of the everyday and how this is overlaid with the bloody and bitter business of war. Their interpreter (hooded, to protect his family) speaks about his village where the main action takes place: “Malik stood up and pointed to a strip of buildings that seemed to grow organically in odd, not quite ninety-degree sections. ... A little farther past the outskirts of Al Tafar there was an orchard. Fires burned from steel drums and trash heaps and sprung up seemingly without cause around the edges of the city.” He points out Mrs Al-Sharifi’s hyacinth field: “‘It is a shame you didn’t see those hyacinths,’” he says, moments before he is mown down by sniper fire. “We did not see Malik get killed, but Murph and I had his blood on both of our uniforms.” This book, written by a US war veteran, shows how ill-prepared ordinary young men and women are to face such violent actions, how corrupting such warfare is, and how kindness and fellow-feeling become distorted in a distorted world. This is an excellent book. - Marie
An unforgettable depiction of the psychological impact of war, by a young Iraq veteran and poet, THE YELLOW BIRDS is already being hailed as a modern classic.
Winner of Guardian First Book Award 2012.
Extraordinary ... beautifully accomplished. The mark of an artist of the first order ... a must-read book. -- JOHN BURNSIDE, GUARDIAN A masterpiece ... a classic. -- THE TIMES BOOKS OF THE YEAR A stunning achievement - visceral [and] poignant. -- SUNDAY TIMES 'Remarkable for its intensity of both feeling and expression. In this book about death, every line is a defiant assertion of the power of beauty to revivify, whether beauty shows itself in nature or (later) in art. -- HILARY MANTEL, GUARDIAN BOOKS OF THE YEAR 'The best book I have read this year' -- IRISH TIMES A wonderful, powerful novel that moves and terrifies. -- INDEPENDENT 'Harrowing, inexplicably beautiful, and utterly, urgently necessary.' -- ANN PATCHETT, Orange Prizewinning author of Bel Canto and State of Wonder A stunning read ... beautiful [and] devastating. -- SIMON MAYO, BBC RADIO 2 BOOK CLUB 'Kevin Powers has conjured a poetic and devastating account of war's effect on the individual.' -- DAMIAN LEWIS, star of Homeland and Band of Brothers Reaffirms the power of fiction to tell the truth about the unspeakable ... a superb literary achievement. I urge everyone to read it. -- CHRIS CLEAVE, author of The Other Hand and Gold Written with an intensity which is deeply compelling. -- COLM T?IB?N, author of Brooklyn and The Master 'This is a novel I've been waiting for. THE YELLOW BIRDS is born from experience and rendered with compassion and intelligence. All of us owe Kevin Powers our heartfelt gratitude.' -- ALICE SEBOLD, author of The Lovely Bones ... One of those books that knocks your perceptions into new alignment permanently. -- BARBARA KINGSOLVER 'THE YELLOW BIRDS is the All Quiet on the Western Front of America's Arab Wars.' -- TOM WOLFE, author of The Bonfire of the Vanities An extraordinary novel ... remarkable ... stands with Tim O'Brien's enduring Vietnam book, The Things They Carried, as a classic of contemporary war fiction ... brilliantly observed and deeply affecting. -- MICHIKO KAKUTANI, NEW YORK TIMES Thus far the definitive novel of our long wars in the Middle East; this book is certain to be read and taught for generations to come. -- PHILIPP MEYER author of American Rust Kevin Powers' poetic, grievously sad debut novel captures one young man's experience of the war in Iraq ... Powers is clear-eyed and dolorous, observing the damage done, but alive to the beauty of the landscape, and the details that cement friendship in a world dominated by violence and fear. -- MARIE CLAIRE Extraordinarily well-written ... brilliant ... he's just a really, really beautiful writer ... everyone will be reading it. -- ALEX HEMINSLEY, BBC RADIO 2 ARTS SHOW Page after page yields unforgettable images ... undeniably, this is an important novel by a formidable talent. -- DAILY MAIL A novel about the war in Iraq might not usually top your reading list, but make an exception for this one ... it's an intense, brutal and yet lyrical tale ... Novelists from Ann Pratchett to Colm Toibin have praised its harrowing beauty. It's an elegant literary treat. -- EASY LIVING 'The most recent war is much like the most ancient, torn bodies, cracked psyches, the emotional roundelay of pride, pain, confusion and sorrow. In THE YELLOW BIRDS, Kevin Powers has delivered an exceptional novel from the war in Iraq, written in clean, evocative prose, lyric and graphic, in assured rhythms, a story for today and tomorrow and the next.' -- DANIEL WOODRELL, author of WINTER'S BONE We haven't just been waiting for a great novel to come out of the Iraq War, our 21st century Vietnam; we have also been waiting for something more important, a work of art that illuminates our flawed and complex and striving humanity behind all such wars. At last we have both in Kevin Powers' THE YELLOW BIRDS. -- ROBERT OLEN BUTLER, author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain 'THE YELLOW BIRDS is a superb novel. Call it a war novel or a first novel or whatever you'd like. Powers has created a powerful work of art that captures the complexity and life altering realities of combat service. This book will endure. Read it and then put it way up on that high rare shelf alongside Ernest Hemingway and Tim O'Brien.' -- ANTHONY SWOFFORD, author of Jarhead Short, taut and eminently readable. With a John Updike-like hypersensitivity in rendering the mundane extraordinary ... an extremely impressive debut - Kevin Powers is a name to watch. -- TIME OUT Book of the Week THE YELLOW BIRDS skulks along, detached and undemanding, until all of a sudden you turn a page and find yourself weeping. -- GQ, Debut Novel of the Month Elegiac, sober, and haunting. -- TIME magazine Intense, painful, excellent ... Bartle tries to piece it all together, and his torment, which must be akin to the author's, feels like a gift. -- SPECTATOR 'Powers' poetic gifts render the experience of Americans in Iraq with great emotional intensity. War has been a subject of literature ever since The Iliad. The best books transcend their time and circumstances to say something enduring and truthful about war itself. THE YELLOW BIRDS belongs in that category.' -- PHILIP CAPUTO, author of the Vietnam classic A Rumour of War Terrific ... vivid [and] gripping. A very much needed book. -- MARGARET FORSTER, author of Diary of an Ordinary Woman What happens to soldiers at war? THE YELLOW BIRDS delivers answers that should rightfully unnerve us, if we're still willing - ten long years into Iraq and Afghanistan - to contemplate 'our little pest of a war.' The human cost is surely beyond any comprehensible measure, but in this haunting, unflinching crucible of a novel, Kevin Powers gives us the essence, with all comfortable, corrupting illusion and rhetoric burned away. -- BEN FOUNTAIN, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk Beautifully written ... This is a harrowing and pitiful story of the sad waste of war. -- THE LADY 'This book epitomises the power of the written word; the language is at once poetic and brutal, vivid and sparse. A stunning, timely and engrossing novel' -- BOOKSELLER What impresses most here are the mournful and melodious refrains which manage to cultivate beauty and pathos from the smothering chaos and dust. -- WE LOVE THIS BOOK A book that will make you look good on the bus ... a powerful tale. -- HEAT From an opening that suggests The Wasteland to a closing that echoes The Great Gatsby, Kevin Powers has crafted one of the most beguiling and beautiful war novels of recent times ... its soul spills out over every poetic page. -- RTE GUIDE A stunning achievement, visceral [and] poignant. -- SUNDAY TIMES THE YELLOW BIRDS is a wonderful, powerful novel that moves and terrifies. -- INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY Tautly written and unforgiving in its depiction of the human cost of war. -- THE TIMES I found in THE YELLOW BIRDS by Kevin Powers a vivid, poetic account of modern warfare. Powers joined the US Marines at 17, going on to serve as a machine gunner in Iraq, and each line bleeds hard-fought truths. -- RICHARD GODWIN, EVENING STANDARD BOOKS OF THE YEAR Powers has written a compassionate, poetic evocation of war and its legacy which has already been hailed as a classic of its genre. -- SUNDAY EXPRESS, BOOKS OF THE YEAR [Powers] has forged a harrowing, enormously powerful first novel ... Powers' writing is also attentive to nature and landscape, and he manages to entertain contradictory notions of beauty and horror. Wasn't that Fitzgerald's definition of genius? -- FINANCIAL TIMES Kevin Powers' lyrical account of war's deep impact on the individual is an important addition to the tradition of American war fiction and perhaps the first great novel to emerge from the long, intractable conflicts in the Middle East. -- JOHANNA THOMAS-CORR, LITERARY REVIEW And then I heard this ... an extraordinary novel - honest painful, poetic. Powers's exquisitely drawn portrait of three young soldiers struggling in their own way to make sense of their situation gives you the real human story. -- GUARDIAN In the great tradition of Hemingway and Tim O'Brien, Kevin Powers's exquisitely written THE YELLOW BIRDS draws us in to the combat zones of Iraq: the watch, the wait ("Stay alive, Stay alert"), the bungle, the slaughter and the irreparable aftermath. -- EDNA O'BRIEN, GUARDIAN It is a novel about the horrors of war made beautiful by the author's poetic language which is like handsome ironmongery, delicately strong but not overwrought ... At one stage in the book, there's a bravura passage of stream of consciousness that may well be among the most effective lines ever written about a soldier trying to come to terms with what he has seen and done. For that alone Powers deserves a medal. -- THE SCOTSMAN The author's status as a veteran of the war, and therefore a curio in the American literary world, provides an unimpeachable veracity to the novel ... It is quite clear that he is major talent. -- INDEPENDENT [An] unforgettable debut novel ... [Powers has] written fiction that seems more real than the "real" thing. -- NEWSWEEK 'This book epitomises the power of the written word; the language is at once poetic and brutal, vivid and sparse. A stunning, timely and engrossing novel.' -- BOOKSELLER From an opening that suggests The Waste Land to a closing that echoes The Great Gatsby, Kevin Powers has crafted one of the most beguiling and beautiful war novels of recent times ... its soul spills out over every poetic page. -- RTE GUIDE That it horrifies with beauty and numbs by way of sensuality is Powers' big achievement -- SUNDAY INDEPENDENT (DUBLIN) If you're looking for one of the first great novels of the Iraq war, this may be it. -- CNN.com It's a sad and deftly written story - and one that can stand tall with the great war novels that preceded it. -- EMERALD STREET
Kevin Powers was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, and holds an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a Michener Fellow in Poetry. He served in the US Army in 2004 and 2005 in Iraq, where he was deployed as a machine gunner in Mosul and Tal Afar. He currently lives in Florence, where his wife studies fashion. www.kevincpowers.com