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richardderus

Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud

The Yellow Birds - Kevin Powers UPDATE 11/30/2012: The Yellow Birds wins the 2012 Guardian First Book Award!Rating: 4.75* of five The Book Description: "The war tried to kill us in the spring," begins this breathtaking 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. 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.Bound together since basic training when their tough-as-nails Sergeant ordered Bartle to watch over Murphy, the two have been dropped into a war neither is prepared for. As reality begins to blur into a hazy nightmare, Murphy becomes increasingly unmoored from the world around him and Bartle takes impossible actions.With profound emotional insight, especially into the effects of a hidden war on mothers and families at home, THE YELLOW BIRDS is a groundbreaking novel about the costs of war that is destined to become a classic. My Review: I do so wish publishers would stop using the phrase “destined to become a classic” because, even if I agree with them (in this case I do), it's so obviously a sales pitch that it's a turn off.No one knows for sure what the future will consider a classic. No one in 1955 would've given The Lord of the Rings future-classic status. No one in 1851 would've known about Moby-Dick, it was such a flop! The Great Gatsby? Please! Out of print by 1940!This book, fragmented like PTSD memories, written in deceptively simple sentences by a *shudder* poet of all things, earns my admiration for its beauty, its simplicity, its sheer raw emotional up-front-ness. It has these, and many other, things in common with books that have stood the test of time and become classics. It is a first novel; it is about a young man's journey into a unique hell of memory and the maze he travels even to imagine daylight guiding him out; it is, one strongly suspects based on the author's CV, a roman à clef. So far, so good, for the oddsmakers' guess it will become a classic; so did The Naked and the Dead, so did The Sun Also Rises, and so on. I think it will be a classic. I hope it will, and I offer this passage as support for my hope and conviction:When we neared the orchard a flock of birds lit from its outer rows. They hadn't been there long. The branches shook with their absent weight and the birds circled above in the ruddy mackerel sky, where they made an artless semaphore. I was afraid. I smelled copper and cheap wine. The sun was up, but a half-moon hung low on the opposite horizon, cutting through the morning sky like a figure from a child's pull-tab book.We were lined along the ditch up to our ankles in a soupy muck. It all seemed in that moment to be the conclusion of a poorly designed experiment in inevitability. Everything was in its proper place, waiting for a pause in time, for the source of all momentum to be stilled, so that what remained would be nothing more than detritus to be tallied up. The world was paper-thin as far as I could tell. And the world was the orchard, and the orchard was what came next. But none of that was true. I was only afraid of dying.” (p115, US hardcover edition)That, for me, is a lovely moment of mortal fear's hyperreality-inducing sensory twist. Never having been in war, I can't say it's what a soldier would feel, but having been afraid for my life from external causes, I can say that is the kind of sharp-edged seemingly odd clarity of perception that happened to me. The author was a soldier in Iraq. I suspect he saw and felt these exact things, and because he's *gag* an MFA-havin' poet, he remembered them with extreme precision.Kevin Powers is One To Watch. If his book wins a National Book Award, which I strongly suspect it will, this could be the best novel we see from him. I hope it does, and I pray it doesn't, and I most urgently petition the Muses for his beautiful, beautiful talent to survive intact the horrors of commerce, where the agonies of war built a palace for him.