Kevin Powers - The Yellow Birds (4 stars)

Kevin Powers - The Yellow Birds

Intensely poetic war drama set during and after the Iraq conflict

Kevin Powers’ debut novel is imbued with an intensely poetic rhythm. The heavy introspections of its protagonist, Private Bartle, flow hypnotically, like the desert landscape in which much of the book is set. Bartle is a soldier in the US Army, the chapters flitting between his recollections of serving in Iraq in 2004 and his return home to Virginia in 2005, where he’s haunted by the memory of a dead friend.

Poet and writer Powers is ex-US military himself. And while this isn’t a memoir, there’s clearly inspiration drawn from his real experiences. Despite being little over 200 pages, The Yellow Birds is dense with detail: it’s like being trapped inside Bartle’s mind, and ten minutes of reading can feel like an hour.

That’s not to say the book is slow: instead, it treads carefully to its deeply unsettling finale, leaving us sick at the damage war inflicts on the mind and body. And yet somehow it is uplifting that a writer as honest and compelling as Powers can emerge from such an inhuman mess.

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