The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers
Reviewed by Michele Forbes
The Yellow Birds
978 1 444 75614 2
This is a harrowing and deeply moving depiction of one soldier’s experience of the Iraq war. Pvt John Bartle is shipped out to serve with his platoon in Al Tafar, in Nineveh province. Before he leaves, he makes a promise to the mother of Pvt Daniel Murphy, a vulnerable combatant and friend. What follows is Bartle’s personal struggle to contend with an ever -unfolding hell: the swift and callous dehumanising of young men and women in the name of war; the shame of bearing witness to the savage waste of life; his own attempts to do the right thing and honour the promise he made. The writing is rich and poetic, and the swollen descriptions of skyscapes and sunsets work to create a testament to emotional survival. Kevin Powers served in Iraq for two years, but the tone of The Yellow Birds is not confessional. There is a committed energy in the narrative that goes beyond the expurgatory and makes it not only a vital document of contemporary warfare but also an exceptional novel.