Presenter of the National Book Awards

2012 National Book Award Finalist,
Fiction

Kevin Powers

The Yellow Birds

Little, Brown and Company

The Yellow Birds, by Kevin PowersKevin Powers, The Yellow Birds

citation

Poetic, precise, and moving, The Yellow Birds is a work of fiercest principle, honoring loss while at the same time indicting the pieties of war. With acute emotional and psychological integrity, the novel tracks young soldier Bartle’s passage through the fields of memory and the nightmare landscape of the Iraq war, through days of waiting, through the sudden, fatal everyday, seeking no less than the remedy for mortal wounds, the mercies of remembrance amid the catastrophic ruin wrought by the hand of man. An urgent, vital, beautiful novel that reminds us through its scrupulous honesty how rarely its anguished truths are told.

About the Book

"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. 

About the Author

Kevin Powers joined the army at the age of 17, later serving a year as a machine gunner in Mosul and Tal Afar, Iraq, in 2004 and 2005. After his honorable discharge he enrolled in Virginia Commonwealth University, where he graduated in 2008 with a Bachelor's degree in English. He holds an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a Michener Fellow in Poetry. This is his first novel.

LINKS

> www.kevincpowers.com

VIDEO: Conversation: Kevin Powers, Author of 'The Yellow Birds'
PBS Newshour, Art Beat
> www.pbs.org/newshour/art/blog/2012/10/conversation-kevin-powers-author-of-the-yellow-birds.html

AUDIO: Kevin Powers on The Diane Rehm Show
Guest Host, Tom Gjelten (produced by member-supported WAMU 88.5 in Washington DC)
> thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2012-09-25/kevin-powers-yellow-birds

Excerpt

The war tried to kill us in the spring. As grass greened the plains of Nineveh and the weather warmed, we patrolled the low-slung hills beyond the cities and towns. We moved over them and through the tall grass on faith, kneading paths into the windswept growth like pioneers. While we slept, the war rubbed its thousand ribs against the ground in prayer. When we pressed onward through exhaustion, its eyes were white and open in the dark. While we ate, the war fasted, fed by its own deprivation. It made love and gave birth and spread through fire.

Then, in summer, the war tried to kill us as the heat blanched all color from the plains. The sun pressed into our skin, and the war sent its citizens rustling into the shade of white buildings. It cast a white shade on everything, like a veil over our eyes. It tried to kill us every day, but it had not succeeded. Not that our safety was preordained. We were not destined to survive. The fact is we were not destined at all. The war would take what 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. And I knew the war would have its way.

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Photo credit: Marjorie Cotera