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Publisher's Summary

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....

©2012 Kevin Powers (P)2012 Hachette Audio

Critic Reviews

“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)
“Harrowing, inexplicably beautiful, and utterly, urgently necessary.” (Ann Patchett, Orange Prizewinning author of Bel Canto and State of Wonder)
“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)
“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)
“Extraordinary . . . beautifully accomplished. The mark of an artist of the first order . . . a must-read book.” ( Guardian)
“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 members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • mariaan
  • Pretoria, South Africa
  • 11-15-12

Excellence all round

If you prefer your books action-driven, fast-paced, more linear, chronological, this is probably not for you, although the war action is there in all its devastating detail. The story alternates between events in Iraq in 2004-2005 and alienation and repercussions back home in the US afterwards. The narrator did a very good job of portraying the internal voice of the young soldier. The story, as it is pieced together, is heart-breaking. What takes this book way beyond the usual war novel is the exquisite writing. One of my favourite books this year.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars

Compelling story but disjointed and often too slow

Whilst the beginning was gripping, the story lost momentum a few chapters in, and the non-linear narrative was often very confusing; a chapter set in late 2005 would precede a chapter set in spring 2004 and so on. Perhaps that would have been easier to follow in print, but it was difficult to understand what was going on. Too much introspection and not enough action made for a slow "read" despite Holter Graham's best efforts to bring life to the story.

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • chrissie
  • 01-27-13

should be compulsory listening for all politicians

Cannot really use the word 'enjoyable for this' - too harrowing. ..but certainly gripping and thought provoking An unembroidered account of young men at war in a conflict they barely understand in a country which, as the saying goes, they probably couldn't find on a map

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Ant
  • 08-30-13

Powerful and beautifully written

I had no real idea what to expect from this book, so I was very pleased when, 5 minutes into it, I found myself gripped, both by the story and it's telling. Some of the descriptive passages are breath taking in their terrible beauty.
The protagonist tells his tale with such brutal honesty that you are forced to believe that every word of this story is the absolute truth, that it is more of a confession without the hope of redemption. This draws you into the story to such a degree that it is very difficult to leave the tale until it is over. I started listening to this story on a short drive in the car, returned home and sat listening until the end, spell bound.
This is not to say that this is an enjoyable story, it is a glimpse into the horror of war and it's terrible aftermath. In the preface to slaughterhouse 5, Kurt Vonnegut recalls promising a friend's wife that his book would not glorify war. In his own way, Kevin Powers achieves the same. Highly recommended.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • TonyM
  • 06-11-18

Only a soldier fully gets this!

The experiences of people whose life experiences approach the abyss from which there is no escape after falling, can appreciate the levels of alienation the author describes. After escaping the destruction this soldier is nevertheless aware of how profoundly he (or she) their life has been fully ruined, how their innocence had been so destroyed and their souls seared, which could only have happened because they survived. We know what we know, no matter how fiercely we tried to resist being polluted. It is only by surrendering that we could hope to survive. But this entails no loss of honour, no one can escape except by dying young, as the old adage correctly claims. Nothing more real or satisfying than fraternity, shared agony and peaceful reticence could exist in life. This disappears with the individual at death and there is no trace. This book brilliantly explains for the uninitiated this heady addictive phenomenon - the old soldier- a wonderful feat of authorship!

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  • Anthony
  • 06-10-18

Destructivess of war writ large

Eloquently written and narrated... this is a story of war’s deep cuts into being human...

A young American soldier and his relationships with friends, the military, and the ‘other’ in Iraq are laid bare. Beautifully written - crude evocative language - maps the destructiveness of this conflict on the behaviour and psyches of those engaged. We are drawn into the slow unraveling of a US soldier’s ability to cope with a futile war, the intensity of loyalties that lead to bizarre but credible behaviour, the mechanisms deployed to manage sanity in an insane situation, and the grief of a mother who just wants to know what happened...

We do not learn much about ‘why the war?’ ... but we learn a lot about ‘what the war? ... and it is not pretty.

An impressive short, but deep, anti-war book...

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  • Farniboy
  • 08-10-14

Each War has a great novel is this the Gulf War's?

If you could sum up The Yellow Birds in three words, what would they be?

Moving. harrowing, authentic.

What did you like best about this story?

Powers is a veteran of the war he writes so well about. He really gets across the fear, fatigue and terror of combat. Its feels authentic because we know he was there on the ground.

Have you listened to any of Holter Graham’s other performances? How does this one compare?

Yes I've listened to a few of Holter Graham's readings of Stephen King's books.They were fantastic listens, especially Christine. He's a great narrator and this book compares with the King books.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes quite easily. It draws you in. The books starts with a combat scene and your hooked! It then flicks between the characters meet at basic training, the events in the war, to the narrator coping with the aftermath in the US.

Any additional comments?

A great read! It shows the cost of rich men's wars, on the poor boy's who get to fight them.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful