Friday, November 11, 2011

Book Review - The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Today is Veterans Day, so in honor of everyone who ever served their nation this is a tribute to you.

"What is Past is Prologue"

The war in Vietnam has been written about as extensively as the Civil War and World War II. I hadn't read anything even remotely related to the Vietnam era in some time, so when I happened upon Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" I was intrigued.  The title isn't meant to be taken literally, but you wouldn't necessarily know that by looking at the cover.

What piqued my interest was the huge amount of reviews and accolades that appear on the back cover and on multiple pages on the inside front cover. The kudos for the book kept going and going and going.  In today's day and age that is highly unusual. Then I looked at the print date and saw that the book was published in 1990. Two things: why would I review a book that's nearly 22 years old (any book you have never read is a new book) and why on earth was the bookstore promoting this book as though it were a brand new publishing effort?
O'Brien has been lauded as one of the best writers in America by numerous reviewers over the last 35 years.  He has written almost exclusively on his experiences in Vietnam.  He writes from a non-fiction and fictional perspective and the two meet quite poetically in his volume of work.  

"The Things They Carried" is relatively short, but it packs a tremendous amount of story into its brevity.  He provides far-reaching and memorable portrayals of the individuals he served with and his compassion is displayed throughout the pages.  O'Brien doesn't fear bringing forth his own flaws.  
He paints portraits of the men he knew during the trials of this war experience and the one I particularly was bottomed out by was his recreation of the journey of Kiowa. Kiowa was a Native American from Oklahoma who was a devout Christian. So many Christians are displayed in the worst light in contemporary media accounts and they are currently the only folks you can still pick on without lawsuits and hatred attached. O'Brien doesn't seem to believe in Christianity as a faith walk, but he respects the beliefs of Kiowa.  

Kiowa's death is the most painful moment in the book. This man who meant so much to his comrades literally died in a pile of poop.  A literal pile of poop.  The degradation of the war is brought home repeatedly, but the courage, strength, knowledge and wisdom of the men who served is readily available on every page.

The book closes out on the death of a nine year old girl back in the mid 1950's. O'Brien weaves her death and his love for her into a closing statement on life itself.  Life is brief and fragile indeed.

This is a beautifully written book and dare I say it should be required reading for every human under the age of 22 in this country. We have become so superficial as a society that at times it downright frightens me. We have seemingly lost our moral fiber as a nation.   

Whatever your thoughts are on the war in Vietnam you will gain new insights into the concept of friendship, brotherhood and a united front.  

I'm so grateful someone decided to put that 21 year old book on a display carton. If you didn't know better you would have thought it was just released.  The timelessness of it all makes it seem like it was just released. 

Some of the most captivating and gorgeous writing can be found on pages 76 through 79 of this book. O'Brien sums up the feelings and you feel it.  He bottlenecks the concept of war and what it feels like.   

Read "The Things They Carried."

Copyright 2011 Read On Read Now