The Yellow Birds

Kevin Powers

The Yellow Birds
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The Yellow Birds

Kevin Powers

WINNER OF THE GUARDIAN FIRST BOOK AWARD 2012 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST AN AMAZON EDITOR’S PICK: BEST BOOKS OF 2012 A NEW YORK TIMES TOP TEN BOOK OF THE YEAR A TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR AN INDEPENDENT BOOK OF THE YEAR A TLS BOOK OF THE YEAR AN EVENING STANDARD BOOK OF THE YEAR A SUNDAY EXPRESS BOOK OF THE YEAR A GUARDIAN BOOK OF THE YEAR A NEW YORK TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR A SUNDAY HERALD BOOK OF THE YEAR AN IRISH TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR 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. With THE YELLOW BIRDS, poet and veteran Kevin Powers has composed an unforgettable account of friendship and loss. It vividly captures the desperation and brutality of war, and its terrible after-effects. But it is also a story of love, of great courage, and of extraordinary human survival. Written with profound emotional insight, especially into the effects of a hidden war on families at home, THE YELLOW BIRDS is one of the most haunting, true and powerful novels of our time. ‘THE YELLOW BIRDS is the All Quiet on the Western Front of America’s Arab Wars.’ (Tom Wolfe, author of The Bonfire of the Vanities ) ‘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 ) ‘Inexplicably beautiful’. (Ann Patchett, Orange Prize-winning author of Bel Canto and State of Wonder)


Kevin Powers is a young veteran of the Iraq war. His debut novel, The Yellow Birds, is the story of two soldiers who make a pact not to let the conflict kill them, and it has been described as a fictional account of Powers’s time in service.

Over the past few months this slim novel has been swamped with publicity with some reviews calling it ‘already a modern classic’ and Miles Franklin shortlisted author Favel Parrett naming it a ‘special book’.

The writing is lyrical and there is a decidedly dream-like feel to the story as the protagonist, John, drifts in and out of different times and lucidity. There are some powerful moments where he slips into a raw, confessional tone, as though writing for a diary. In particular, I found John’s relationship with his mother, as she struggles to reconcile his decision to go to war with the consequences, very compelling.

Powers has a tendency to over-describe that can be problematic; sometimes you need a cleaner sentence tucked in there to highlight the more evocative moments. This could be due to his background as a poet and his emphasis on portraying the psychological and emotional impact of war over telling a good story. At times his descriptions become forced, rather than beautiful, and this makes the plot feel a little contrived.

Despite these problems The Yellow Birds is still an emotive novel, a war story told for a literary-minded audience, and I don’t doubt some people will love it.

Bronte Coates is the Online & Readings Monthly Assistant. She is a co-founder of literary project, Stilts

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