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The Yellow Birds [Paperback]

Kevin Powers
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (115 customer reviews)
RRP: 7.99
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Book Description

27 Jun 2013

WINNER OF THE GUARDIAN FIRST BOOK AWARD 2012

WINNER OF THE HEMINGWAY/PEN AWARD 2012

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST

AN AMAZON EDITOR'S PICK: BEST BOOKS OF 2012

A NEW YORK TIMES TOP TEN BOOK OF THE YEAR

A TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR

AN INDEPENDENT BOOK OF THE YEAR

A TLS BOOK OF THE YEAR

AN EVENING STANDARD BOOK OF THE YEAR

A SUNDAY EXPRESS BOOK OF THE YEAR

A GUARDIAN BOOK OF THE YEAR

A NEW YORK TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR

A SCOTSMAN BOOK OF THE YEAR

A SUNDAY HERALD BOOK OF THE YEAR

AN IRISH TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR

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.

Everywhere John looks, he sees Murph.

He flinches when cars drive past. His fingers clasp around the rifle he hasn't held for months. Wide-eyed strangers praise him as a hero, but he can feel himself disappearing.

Back home after a year in Iraq, memories swarm around him: bodies burning in the crisp morning air. Sunlight falling through branches; bullets kicking up dust; ripples on a pond wavering like plucked strings. The promise he made, to a young man's mother, that her son would be brought home safely.

With THE YELLOW BIRDS, poet and veteran Kevin Powers has composed an unforgettable account of friendship and loss. It vividly captures the desperation and brutality of war, and its terrible after-effects. But it is also a story of love, of great courage, and of extraordinary human survival.

Written with profound emotional insight, especially into the effects of a hidden war on families at home, THE YELLOW BIRDS is one of the most haunting, true and powerful novels of our time.

'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 )

'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 )

'Inexplicably beautiful'.

(Ann Patchett, Orange Prize-winning author of Bel Canto and State of Wonder)


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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Sceptre (27 Jun 2013)
  • Language: French
  • ISBN-10: 1444756141
  • ISBN-13: 978-1444756142
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (115 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 21,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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. His debut novel, THE YELLOW BIRDS won the Guardian First Book Award 2012 and was a New York Times bestseller in its first week of publication.

www.kevincpowers.com

Product Description

Review

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 TÓIBÍN, 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)

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)

[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)

'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 A Rumor of War)

'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)

Book Description

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.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
60 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant 22 Aug 2012
By Sid Nuncius HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a superb, moving and insightful book about war and its effects on the men and women who take part in it. The author, Kevin Powers, is a veteran of Iraq in 2004 where this book is set and is now a poet. This combination of first-hand experience and ability with language coupled with great insight and honesty creates something quite remarkable.

The book is narrated in the first person by private John Bartle on his first tour of duty in Iraq. The language is heightened throughout, often poetic and sometimes almost hallucinatory. The timescale moves between his time in Iraq, his pre-tour training and his homecoming and after. The story is really that of Bartle's psychological journey and is quite stunning in its evocation of the war itself and of the state of mind of the young man who went through it. It is deceptively quiet in tone with even the violent action (of which there is relatively little) described without hysteria, and this lends it a remarkable power to convey things like fear, exhaustion, the rush of excitement and the dreadful problems of reintegrating once home.

All this may sound forbidding, turgid or preachy but it isn't at all. This is an engrossing, readable book which is quite short but has immense impact and which will stay with me for a very long time. I think this genuinely belongs among great war books such as All Quiet On the Western Front and Dispatches. I could give a long list of examples of how thoughtful, insightful and honest it is, but I will just say that I recommend that you read it. It is truly exceptional and you will never forget it.
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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The ravages of war 21 July 2012
By Roman Clodia TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This really is something special. Told as a first person narrative by Bartle, 21 years old and on his first tour of duty in Iraq, 2004, this documents his friendship with 18 year old fellow American soldier Murphy - and his desperate attempts to hold on to some remnants of humanity and compassion in the midst of war.

This is a beautifully-written novel which recounts the brutality of war in lyrical, almost poetic style. From the opening, War itself is personified as something with an agency and life of its own. I really liked that this is, in lots of ways, a quiet novel - it's not full of daring action, or obvious set pieces - though the central `event' which the narrative seems to almost want to shy away from, is appropriately violent and heart-rending.

While this is set in Iraq, it's a novel about war in more general and conceptual terms, and eschews localised politics for a depiction of the way in which combat ravages the spirit, striving to strip men of what makes them human. The only victory in this book is that Bartle resists giving in to violence, cruelty and inhumanity, and maintains a sense of care and very human sympathy.

The descriptions of Iraq as Ninevah give this a mythic air at times, and help to ground the book away from the specific. This isn't always an easy read in that it's painful and heartfelt - but it is an outstanding one.

Harrowing and beautiful, this is the sort of novel which deserves to win literary prizes - highly recommended.
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Let's break rank 27 Sep 2012
By MisterHobgoblin TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The Yellow Birds is a novel that sets out to show the hardships of war and the conflict between personal and national concerns. It is hard to criticise novels like this without seeming to support the suffering.

OK, let's break rank.

The Yellow Birds, worthy though the subject matter might be, is confusing and opaque. Kevin Powers is a poet and it shows. Much of the narrative feels overwritten; floweriness for its own sake. It appeared inauthentic to put these words into a soldier's first person narrative. I know that Kevin Powers is a war veteran himself so the voice is technically authentic, but the trouble is, it just doesn't convince. It doesn't feel like a narrative from the heart.

So what is the story? That's a good question. We have a soldier, John Bartle, who enlists for various personal reasons, chief of which is to prove to himself and others that he is not a coward. So far so good. And in the army, he fights alongside various colleagues including Murph and Sergeant Sterling. Alas, the short novel doesn't really allow much space for characterisation; they are really just ciphers. The details of the war are well done and convincing but it soon becomes clear that there are multiple stories, not all of which can be true. Some of these stories are just in John Bartle's mind or in his dreams. This is at best confusing and at worst frustrating. I guess there is some kind of deep metaphor at work, but as so often with poetic novels, one soon tires of trying to work it all out. The law of diminishing returns and all that.

And there is plenty of navel gazing too, particularly in the sections set in 2006 away from the Iraqi battlefields.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful debut about the true nature of war 16 Sep 2012
By Mingo Bingo VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Kevin Powers is a Iraq war veteran and poet, so he knows of what he speaks here and the poetry background gives him the skills to write about the war is a way that is visceral, real and utterly compelling.

It is a simple novel in terms of plot. John Bartle is back in the USA following his first tour of Iraq. He is struggling to adapt to life in civvy street and is haunted by events during his time in the war zone.

It has a small cast of characters, Bartle, Murph (who's death is at the centre of the events which torture Bartle) and Sterling, and all three of the principals are all expertly drawn. Sterling particularly is chilling - a man who is at his best when in combat, reckless, violent while sensitive and utterly believable.

The poetry of the writing stays with you. At times clipped and precise, at others hallucinatory and challenging, it is hard to believe this is a debut novel:

'We were not destined to survive. The fact is we were not destined at all. The war would take whatever it could get. It was patient. It didn't care about objectives, or boundaries, whether you were loved by many or not at all. While I slept that summer, the war came to me in my dreams and showed me its sole purpose: to go on, only to go on.'

I have a couple of tiny quibbles about the plotting and structure, but they are just that - tiny. This is an accomplished, affecting and emotionally true novel, that should be required reading in schools.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific writing
Beautiful writing. Read it slowly for the language.
Published 1 day ago by Jin Shofu
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful writing
I disagree with those criticising the flowing, poetic prose as for me this made the novel. I liked the fitting from past to present. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Wren
5.0 out of 5 stars I didn't enjoy it but I couldn't put it down.
I have rarely read a book that moved me so deeply as this did. It's a very simple story but it's honest and raw and visceral and if you have a shred of empathy it will hurt you.
Published 2 months ago by tychos
5.0 out of 5 stars Hoot this one is for you
When you say "they wouldn't understand", well this guy does.
A jewel, always dry and hard. No coating, none needed
(Hoot= http://youtu.be/WsyVRpW4xNk)
Published 3 months ago by Andrea Salvatori
3.0 out of 5 stars Nicely written but not a cheerful book
I read this book for my book group and didn't much enjoy it. Two reasons, firstly the subject was fairly grim and secondly I found there was too much description which went on and... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Anita
3.0 out of 5 stars I, soldier
The Yellow Birds is fiction, but reads like a philosophically-inclined memoir. Self-interested, unconcerned with the wider implications of military action, it is, as Kevin Powers,... Read more
Published 4 months ago by annwiddecombe
5.0 out of 5 stars amazing
starting reading and couldn't put it down this book is an amazing story and it is well worth buying everyone should read it
Published 4 months ago by hana
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful prose
This is a beautifully written book - clear that the author is a poet. Thought provoking and achingly real at time.
Published 5 months ago by WD
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
Makes you feel like you are there with the soldiers, but not as an observer. A brilliant novel that describes the whole front to back consequences of joining the military and the... Read more
Published 5 months ago by cannco
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
The subtle and beautifully told story of a soldier who fought in the Middle East. It's an unlikely topic to "enjoy", but I did. Read more
Published 5 months ago by K. Cory-Wright
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