Saturday, July 3, 2010

(Book #23) Tim O'Brien - The Things They Carried

Tim O'Brien's 'The Things They Carried', a book about the Vietnam War, was suggested to me as a good and quick read. While the book is actually a collection of short stories and vignettes that capture the feeling, texture and emotion of being a soldier in Vietnam, it does so through an overall arc. The stories all portray characters which were inspired by O'Brien's personal life and embodied the personas of his fellow soldiers. Through the book, the line between fact and fiction is often blurred, and what he shares is a compelling struggle to come to grips with these events, allowing the reader to better understand the experience of being a soldier.

The book, being published in 1990, was written almost a generation after the incidents which it portrays. In a time when movies such as Apocalypse Now and Platoon depict this war through characterizations, action and visuals, a book such as this seems vital in portraying emotion and the affects of war on the individual. The book covers a lot of emotional ground between a story about running away from the draft to another about an ex-soldier's deep seeded desire to talk about the war and many harrowing incidents in between. Some stretch the truth more than others, but all of them share an underlying awe and remorse for a time that has deeply affected so many.

Because 'The Things They Carried' was specifically about the Vietnam War, it is almost easy to read it and remain slightly detached from the incidents that have occurred a generation ago. It is important, however, 20 years after this book was released to be reminded of its relevance to modern day. With two wars going on right now, there are many in the military that will have their own stories to tell. That have experienced acts just as gruesome, but in the desert instead of the jungle. It is easy to utter the old mantra "War is Hell", but something else entirely to experience it. This book aimed to share the impressions of these experiences, and I feel it was successful at that, bringing character and life to something that so often is distant and removed.

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