Monday, December 14, 2009

REVIEW: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

FROM AMAZON: “The Things They Carried depicts the men of Alpha Company: Jimmy Cross, Henry Dobbins, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Norman Bowker, Kiowa, and of course, the character Tim O'Brien who has survived his tour in Vietnam to become a father and writer at the age of forty-three. They battle the enemy (or maybe more the idea of the enemy), and occasionally each other. In their relationships we see their isolation and loneliness, their rage and fear. They miss their families, their girlfriends and buddies; they miss the lives they left back home. Yet they find sympathy and kindness for strangers (the old man who leads them unscathed through the mine field, the girl who grieves while she dances), and love for each other, because in Vietnam they are the only family they have. We hear the voices of the men and build images upon their dialogue. The way they tell stories about others, we hear them telling stories about themselves.”

I finished this book a couple of days ago and I had to let it stew a couple of days before I reviewed it. As a rule I DO NOT read books about war. The reason for this is I am a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom myself and it is a time in my life I would rather forget about. Reading war books just reminds me of what I do not want to be reminded of. No, I did not kill anyone nor did I see anyone killed. We did have people in my Unit and my Division that did not make it home and I am eternally thankful that I and my husband spent a year over there and emerged physically unscathed. Emotionally, that is another story entirely and why I mention it here is because I am glad I did give The Things They Carried a go because I could relate to Tim O’Brien and many of the things he felt as a Soldier in a war zone.

The Things They Carried is really a collection of war stories and recollections from Tim O’Brien who served in the Vietnam War. He tells stories about the members of his platoon and how they interacted with each other in an environment that is constant stress. He recalls members of his unit and how they died-Lavender, Lemon, Kiowa (who was sucked into a mud pit-what a horrible way to go..). It is not the story that comes through though. It is the feelings associated with the stories. He talks about his inner turmoil in first learning he was going to ‘Nam and how Soldiers over there make a mockery of death as a coping mechanism. He talks of how desensitized you become to what is happening around you and to the people around you and also to the local population. He touches on the struggle when you return and how hard it is because those around you haven’t been there and they just don’t get it and how some eventually decide they cannot cope. I think this book is especially relevant now with the war going on in Iraq/Afghanistan because we have Soldiers and Veterans now that are going through the same thing Mr. O’Brien went through 35 years ago.

Is it the best book I’ve read? No. Is it a book that has gone beyond entertainment value and touched something deeper inside? Yes. I definitely recommend it.

If the FTC is wondering: This book is from my own personal library

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