The Yellow Birds
by Kevin Powers
Little, Brown, and Company, 2012. 230 pgs. Fiction.
A promise made to a dead man's mother is the fulcrum upon which this story of young men at war tilts and turns. Private Bartle and Private Murphy are deployed to Iraq together, their sergeant suggesting that eighteen-year-old Murphy find a place in Bartle's back pocket and stay there, and that Bartle look after the younger boy. The horrors of war enfold them as soon as they arrive, soldiers whose only goal has become to stay alive, though their military goal is to take and hold the city of Al Tafar. The soul-destroying circumstances of their lives are brilliantly portrayed by Powers, himself an Iraq veteran and a Michener Fellow in Poetry from the University of Texas at Austin. The Yellow Birds is as sad and important a book as I have ever read, the beauty of expression defining and delineating the profound sorrow of fighting and dying. One of The New York Times' ten best books of the year, and well-deserving.