Review | Tuesday 21 August 2012
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.