Reviews and Praise for LETTER COMPOSED DURING A LULL IN THE FIGHTING and THE YELLOW BIRDS
Like the best war poets, Kevin Powers' real subject is not the battle for land or governance, but the battle for one man's soul. In dramatising that inner conflict, he achieves a poetry both urgent and universal. — Michael Symmons Roberts, winner of the 2013 Forward and Costa prizes
The Guardian reviews Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting
"Impressive in its sincerity and virtually unimpeachable in its distress… " --Andrew Motion, former Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom
Prix littéraire du Monde (roman étranger)
The Yellow Birds receives the Prix littéraire du Monde (novel in translation)
The Yellow Birds has received the 2013 PEN/Hemingway Award for first fiction
The Guardian First Book Award
The Yellow Birds has received the Guardian First Book Award
National Book Awards
The Yellow Birds is a finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction
Anisfield-Wolf Book Award
The Yellow Birds is a co-recipient of the 78th Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction
Sue Kaufman Prize
The Yellow Birds receives the Sue Kaufman Prize for first fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters
The New York Times review of The Yellow Birds
"stands with Tim O’Brien’s enduring Vietnam book, “The Things They Carried,” as a classic of contemporary war fiction." --Michiko Kakutani
The New York Times Book Review
"Kevin Powers has something to say, something deeply moving about the frailty of man and the brutality of war, and we should all lean closer and listen."
The Guardian's review of The Yellow Birds
"a novel that can stand beside All Quiet on the Western Front or The Red Badge of Courage...essential...a must read...the mark of an artist of the first order"
The Daily Beast reviews The Yellow Birds
"unforgettable" "What Powers achieves...is a sense of eternity haunting the margins of one's own vision"
The Financial Times
"a harrowing, enormously powerful first novel"
Foreign Policy reviews The Yellow Birds
reviewed by Brian Castner, author of the exceptional memoir The Long Walk
The New Republic reviews The Yellow Birds
"The Yellow Birds, Kevin Powers's debut novel about an American soldier's experience in Iraq, joins the campaign that Owen started almost a century ago...a fully realized work of the imagination"
Men's Journal reviews The Yellow Birds
"luminous and brutal"
Rolling Stone calls The Yellow Birds, "the first great Iraq war novel."
"If you're looking for one of the first great novels of the Iraq war, this may be it."
interview and review of The Yellow Birds
review of The Yellow Birds
The Sunday Times (London)
"Taut and stripped to the essentials...a stunning achievement"
NPR's All Things Considered reviews The Yellow Birds
Alan Cheuse calls The Yellow Birds "darkly beautiful"
The Yale Daily News
"will be remembered as a great war novel, even if the war he wrote about was anything but."
The Seattle Times
"In quiet, beautiful prose, Powers has painted an unforgettable portrait..."
The Daily Mail's review of The Yellow Birds
"this is an important novel by a formidable talent"
Minneapolis Star Tribune review of The Yellow Birds
"This powerful debut novel is written in clear, strong prose that shifts in time and deliberately fogs the facts, capturing the collision of camaraderie and violence."
RTE Ten review of The Yellow Birds
Ireland's RTE Ten gives The Yellow Birds 5 out of 5 stars
Vogue includes The Yellow Birds in its list of Standout Fiction for Fall
DBC Reads reviews The Yellow Birds
"a striking and seemingly flawless first novel"
Words of Mercury
a wonderfully thoughtful review from the Words of Mercury blog
excellent review from the WORD/SOUND blog
review of The Yellow Birds from the Material Witness blog
The Yellow Birds is in the Debut Spotlight on Amazon's Best Books of the Month of September
"Kevin Powers introduces himself as a writer of prodigious talent and ambition"
The Guardian First Book Award
The Yellow Birds has been longlisted for the 2012 Guardian First Book Award
The Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize
The Yellow Birds has been shortlisted for the Center for Fiction's Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize
Book Oxygen reviews The Yellow Birds
"This is an impressive, moving and potentially important novel that needs to be read, as much for its humanity as for the horrors it so sweetly describes."
"While few will have expected the war in Iraq to bring forth a novel that can stand beside All Quiet on the Western Front or The Red Badge of Courage, The Yellow Birds does just that, for our time, as those books did for theirs."
—John Burnside, The Guardian
"Kevin Powers has written 'All Quiet on the Western Front' for America's Arab wars."
—Tom Wolfe, author of Bonfire of the Vanities, and the forthcoming Back to Blood
"elegiac, sober, and haunting"
"The minute I read Kevin Powers' marvelous first sentence -- 'The war tried to kill us in the spring' -- I knew I was in the hands of an exceptional writer. That line is right up there with "Call me Ishmael." And I wasn't disappointed. Powers poetic gifts render the experience of Americans in Iraq with great emotional intensity. War has been a subject of literature ever since The Iliad. The best books transcend their time and circumstances to say something enduring and truthful about war itself. The Yellow Birds belongs in that category."
—Philip Caputo, author of A Rumor of War
"The Yellow Birds skulks along, detached and undemanding, until all of a sudden you turn a page and find yourself weeping."
—from GQ's review of The Yellow Birds, their Debut Novel of the Month
"We haven’t just been waiting for a great novel to come out of the Iraq War, our 21st century Vietnam; we have also been waiting for something more important, a work of art that illuminates our flawed and complex and striving humanity behind all such wars. At last we have both in Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds."
—Robert Olen Butler, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
—From the Publishers Weekly starred review
"What happens to soldiers at war? The Yellow Birds delivers answers that should rightfully unnerve us, if we're still willing--ten long years into Iraq and Afghanistan--to contemplate "our little pest of a war." The human cost is surely beyond any comprehensible measure, but in this haunting, unflinching crucible of a novel, Kevin Powers gives us the essence, with all comfortable, corrupting illusion and rhetoric burned away."
—Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
"The Yellow Birds...is a wonderful, powerful novel that moves and terrifies."
—The Independent UK
"The Yellow Birds is a superb novel. Call it a war novel or a first novel or whatever you'd like. Powers has created a powerful work of art that captures the complexity and life altering realities of combat service. This book will endure. Read it and then put it way up on that high rare shelf alongside Ernest Hemingway and Tim O'Brien."
—Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead, and Hotels, Hospitals and Jails
"Intense...an angry, searching ode"
—from Entertainment Weekly
"This is a novel I've been waiting for. The Yellow Birds is born from experience and rendered with compassion and intelligence. All of us owe Kevin Powers our heartfelt gratitude.”
—Alice Sebold, author of The Lovely Bones, and The Almost Moon
"The Yellow Birds is the story of a man drowning. The brutal clamour of war is silent next to the anger, fear and guilt of the hero as he tries to process what it is he's part of and what it is he's become. Kevin Powers has conjured a poetic and devastating account of war's effect on the individual."
—Damian Lewis, star of Homeland, and Band of Brothers
“The most recent war is much like the most ancient, torn bodies, cracked psyches, the emotional roundelay of pride, pain, confusion and sorrow. In The Yellow Birds, Kevin Powers has delivered an exceptional novel from the war in Iraq, written in clean, evocative prose, lyric and graphic, in assured rhythms, a story for today and tomorrow and the next.”
—Daniel Woodrell, author of Winter’s Bone
"The Yellow Birds is harrowing, inexplicably beautiful, and utterly, urgently necessary."
—Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder, and the Orange Prize winning Bel Canto
"This book is so heartfelt and so good that it not only reaffirms the power of fiction to tell the truth about the unspeakable, but also asks serious questions of a generation of writers--myself included--who have thus far avoided addressing these disastrous wars directly. Reading The Yellow Birds I became certain that I was in the presence of a text that will win plaudits, become a classic, and hold future narratives of the war to a higher standard. Impeccably structured and told with the poetry of a master, I often had to put the book down, close my eyes and savour the depth of the writing. Comparisons with Hemingway will be inevitable because of the brevity and economical style, and with Cormac McCarthy because of the author's talent for landscape. But Powers builds on this literary foundation to create a style of his own. He writes without hauteur, and his insights into the post-traumatic condition have a degree of sharpness that frequently subvert the classical mode of his storytelling and leave the reader with heart hammering. This is a superb literary achievement. I urge everyone to read it."
—Chris Cleave, author of Little Bee, and Gold
"Compelling, brilliantly written, and heart-breakingly true, The Yellow Birds belongs in the same category as Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried and Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead. Thus far the definitive novel of our long wars in the Middle East; this book is certain to be read and taught for generations to come."
–Philipp Meyer, author of American Rust
"Kevin Powers' The Yellow Birds is written with an intensity which is deeply compelling; every moment, every memory, every object, every move, are conjured up with a fierce and exact concentration and sense of truth. The music of his prose has an exquisite mixture of control and then release which mirrors the action of the book, and the psychological and physical pressures under which the characters are placed."
–Colm Toibin, author of The Master, and Brooklyn
"This book epitomises the power of the written word; the language is at once poetic and brutal, vivid and sparse. A stunning, timely and engrossing novel."
–Emma Herdman, Waterstones, UK
GQ Review (672.6KB)
The Yellow Birds is GQ's debut of the month for September
Indie Next List
The Yellow Birds is a pick for the September Indie Next List
Amazon's Big Fall Books Preview
The Yellow Birds is an Amazon Books Editors' Fall Favorite
Review from Book People
A wonderful review from Book People, my local bookstore when I lived in Austin!
The Yellow Birds makes Entertainment Weekly's 10 Most Anticipated Books of 2012
The Review Broads
Another excellent review of The Yellow Birds
Read an interview about The Yellow Birds
Dulwich Books Review
Review of The Yellow Birds
Read a pre-publication review
from the Cleveland Plain Dealer
Tom Wolfe mentions The Yellow Birds in this article about his new novel Back to Blood
WHAT INDEPENDENT BOOKSELLERS ARE SAYING:
“The story itself, a young man taking on the unfathomable responsibility of looking out for the safety and welfare of a fellow solder, is wrenching. What makes the book truly remarkable, though, is the visceral power of Powers' prose. Reading the combat scenes, I was unable to sit and had to walk around my apartment, reading the book aloud to myself to fully appreciate the staccato rhythms and his marvelous command of language. The contrast he achieves in the alternating chapters when Bartle returns home -- his depression and guilt and his sense of alienation and purposelessness -- reveal the vagueness of violence, systemic state-sanctioned versus the intensely personal. Through language and character, the book moves from the gut to the heart. For me, it was an intense reading experience. Beauty is a strange word to describe a war novel, but it is that. It's a deeply humane book. . . This will likely be the great book that comes out of that war.”
Politics & Prose Bookstore (Washington, DC)
“Kevin Powers first novel is breathtaking in all ways imaginable. His prose is beautiful, his characters believable, the sense of place immersing and his ability to convey the rawness and unflinching realities of war only comparable to a select few literary masters. The Yellow Birds is set during the Iraq War, Powers pulls no punches in his honest storytelling which is evenly matched with his amazing and poetic use of the written word. Kevin Powers should not only be paid attention to for the brilliant writing of his debut novel but for standing up and reminding us that we are still at war and what this ongoing war is still doing to our soldiers and their families.”
Book Passage (San Francisco, CA)
“Not since The Thin Red Line have I read such a powerful war novel. . . Kevin Powers puts you in the hot seat of the Iraq War, fought from the inside out. This is an incredible little book.”
Powell's Books (Portland, OR)
“Since the dawn of history warfare has served as a conduit for great literature. From The Iliad to Matterhorn, writers have surpassed historians in their portrayal of the brutality and ultimate futility of combat. Kevin Powers joins their ranks with this novel of Iraq. His depiction of the soldiers who fought this war and, like all survivors, will continue to fight it at home makes an indelible impact.”
Nicola's Books (Ann Arbor, MI)
"Powers's use of language clearly shows his roots as a poet, which is unexpected in a book about war and its human costs. The beautiful language and rhythmic prose made Bartle's story that much more powerful by their contrast. And, the changes in cadence that Powers employed to reflect Bartles's different frames of mind made the book that much more immediate and personal. It reminded me a lot of the work of Tim O'Brien and I can see it becoming a classic piece of Iraq war fiction, much as O'Brien's 'The Things They Carried' became a classic of Vietnam. And, much like O'Brien's work, this one is sticking with me days after having turned the last page."
Powell's Books (Portland, OR)
“I have underlined so many passages. It is so stunningly beautiful and reminds me of the Sunday I read Tinkers. The prose rises up and grabs you. It's a sure winner!”
Blue Willow Bookshop (Houston, TX)
“Kevin Powers has created an extraordinary and timely debut novel that sheds light on the horrors of modern warfare. The Yellow Birds will stay with you long after the last page is turned. I highly recommend this book.”
Page & Palette (Fairhope, AL)
“I have had The Yellow Birds on my desk for a few weeks now - and I smile at it whenever I can. Not that it is a "warm and fuzzy" book, or, that the story should make me smile! No, I feel like I was in the war in Iraq - in Al Tafar - fighting alongside Private Bartle and Private Murphy. I have never fought in a war before, and I came closer to that feeling than ever before. At the same time, Kevin Powers writes like a poet - his prose has music and cadence and a truthfulness to it. I wanted to save both of the young men - and myself - from the harrowing experiences and the costs of war. Long after I finished the book, I am still wondering how it could have all happened.”
The Book Stall at Chestnut Court (Winnetka, IL)
“Two tender soldiers bond during basic training and the survivor gives a powerful account of the true hell of war. The reader feels the emotion and intensity and absolutely knows that the writer has "been there – done
that" enough to paint an image of truths. Although Kevin Powers served in Iraq, his honest, gut-wrenching words could apply to the death and dying created in all battles, and the witnesses' emotions literally jump from page to mind. The Yellow Birds is a unique reading experience."
The Alabama Booksmith (Birmingham, AL)
“Beautiful, haunting, heart-wrenching. The Yellow Birds is one of the finest novels to emerge from the Iraq war. Mr. Powers has an extraordinary ability to show us what we don’t want to see in language so beautiful that it’s impossible to look away. An important novel that will burn itself into your memory.”
Next Chapter Bookshop (Mequon, WI)
“Using his own experiences in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, Powers has written a small story with huge parameters about one campaign in Iraq that shattered the lives of the three main characters. Gory details are brief, and they are set in stunning contrast to the descriptions of both the physical setting and the inner life of the narrator while he is in Iraq and when he returns home. Although we who have not been soldiers cannot imagine the intensity and stress of battlefield conditions, this novel gives us an inkling of what we have been spared. I’m sure it will be compared with All Quiet on the Western Front, The Things They Carried, and perhaps with The Red Badge of Courage. There is a lot of discuss, so it would be good for book clubs if they could stick with it.”
Blue Willow Bookshop (Houston, TX)
“Beauty and brutality go forth together in Kevin Power’s extraordinary novel, The Yellow Birds. The beauty is in Power’s haunting lyrical prose that makes you want to read many passages over just for the loveliness of his poetic sentences. The brutality is also in the words that Power’s uses to take the reader on a journey with two young men ill prepared for what war asks of them and for one, the inability to keep a promise. Powers takes the reader through the harrowing experience of war, both on the field and at home. His words are so finely tuned the reader feels the dust around them, smells the scents (good and offensive) sees the whiteness of everything and most of all feels the hot, invasive, unbearable sun that burns away into our soul as it does to the characters. Then, when home from the war, even the lushness of the trees and coolness of the water which feels refreshing to the reader, is still not enough for Bartle, the surviving soldier, to find peace in. Powers should be thanked for giving us a true view of a war that will unfortunately leave many scars on many people both on the battle front and home front for many years to come. It is a must read for everyone.”
Nicola's Books (Ann Arbor, MI)
“Kevin Powers has brought this war home to us in a way no news cast could. Astonishingly beautifully crafted, The Yellow Birds is a powerful and tender story, one that needs to be read and talked about and talked about even more.”
Books Inc. (San Francisco, CA)
“Just when I think there cannot be another novel of war, that everything has already been said, along comes poet and soldier Kevin Young. His brilliant and insightful novel, The Yellow Birds, takes us into the darkness and inhumanity of war as he enlightens us to the very human responses American soldiers display—whether tender or terrifying-- while fighting on the ground in the Iraq War. Beautifully rendered and equally powerful, you don’t want to miss this stunning debut.”
Books & Café (Wichita, KS)
“This novel is both deeply moving and literature with a capital L. I thought The Yellow Birds was brilliant.”
Book Passage (Corte Madera, CA)
“Kevin Powers' The Yellow Birds takes the reader deep into the minds and lives of two young soldiers fighting in Iraq. Private Bartle and Private Murphy experience dread and boredom, heart pounding fear and utter horror as Power's beautiful prose unfolds a heartbreaking tale of war. Amidst the chaos and gore, though, there is still beauty. Birds and trees, mothers' love and deep comradery affirm life in this novel of war and needless death. I was deeply, deeply moved by The Yellow Birds. I'm reeling from the experience. Literally.”
Tattered Cover (Denver, CO)
“Stunningly beautiful and haunting at the same time, The Yellow Birds will tear into your soul, open your eyes to the horrors of war yet leave you wanting for more from Kevin Powers. His writing is some of the best in literature; intense, concise, with each word chosen with such care that you keep everyone close to your chest. I read this straight through on July 4, an utterly appropriate day to read a book on the Iraq War. Fireworks at night drove me inside as I thought of the men in The Yellow Birds and the shrapnel and mortars became too real for me. Powers had brought the darkness of war to life in such a way that you can almost smell the dirty water in the ditch and the blood spilling out of the young soldier as he wails for his life. Powers' writing has me in awe of not only his talent, but his experience in war and the aftermath leaves me stunned.”
Bank Square Books, (Mystic, CT)
“I wanted to give a nod to The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers...the book is excellent, full of gravitas that might be unexpected from such young protagonists, had they not had the experiences they did. I can't recommend it highly enough for readers interested not only in war books, but in the psychological novel.”
Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley, MA
“The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers is a book...that I hope all booksellers will get behind. Its devastating description of war's madness is made even that much more powerful by the beauty and force of its prose. Powers is a writer to be reckoned with and I can't wait to share his Yellow Birds with my customers…”
Books & Books (Coral Gables, FL)
“In this powerful novel of the Iraq war, beautiful and poetic language is juxtaposed with brutal devastation. Terrified young American soldiers trying not to die and searching for something to live for, give voice to the loss and anguish of war. Told in short chapters alternating between the war and its aftermath, this is the story of the bonds of young men thrown together in crisis who remain a part of each other's lives for the duration of their own. Short, raw and visceral, this is one that stays with you.”
Brown University Bookstore (Providence, RI)
Yellow Birds should be required reading for the President, the Congress, and the entire Military Industrial Complex. Kevin Powers’ novel describes in lyrical language the intensity and the confusion of war. Young men, who have barely left boyhood, face battle for the first time in Iraq, a country and people that they know little about. And for those fortunate enough to return home, the war comes with them and even affects their families. Iraq war veteran Powers in eloquent prose unveils for the average American the hidden costs of war. Truthful and painful, Yellow Birds will join the classics of war fiction.
Odyssey Bookshop (South Hadley, MA)
"As I read the opening paragraph of THE YELLOW BIRDS by Kevin Powers my jaw dropped, it was so powerful. And then the next paragraph and the next. I understand that Mr. Powers is a Michener Fellow in Poetry at the University of Texas and fought in Iraq, so clearly he has the talent and experience to pen such a haunting novel. As technology has developed we have at once more access and information about wars and conflicts and yet it also seems more remote and disengaged from our comfortable state-side lives. YELLOW BIRDS brings home the true costs in a visceral way."
Square Books, Oxford, MS
"Powers writes with poetic intensity. Bartle lets the reader feel his mental anguish as he relives his experience as a soldier in Iraq. This account is very insightful in understanding the soldier’s horror at war. I was captured by the events and swept away by his intimate story. Great story!"
Page & Palette
“Each carefully crafted sentence and paragraph seduces the reader into the horror of the inevitability of war, where even kindness is a form of brutality, and the wounded soul echoes horror.”
Tattered Cover Bookstore (Highlands Ranch, CO)
“I canceled dinner plans two nights in a row so I could stay home and read The Yellow Birds. From its powerful opening sentence to its last breathless paragraph, Powers gives us a devastating, vital look at the front lines of one of our nation's longest wars. I closed this book and felt changed, like I'd been punched in the gut in a most necessary way. Powers' poetic prose sets its cross hairs on a murky military mission, zeroing in on the confusion and frustration through one soldier's eyes and the long lingering effects of the experience after the desert has receded and he returns to "real life". I've read many nonfiction books about the Iraq war and none of them have hit home the experience the way The Yellow Birds does. This is The Things They Carried for a new war and a new generation. This book demands to be in readers' hands, and I look forward to putting it there.” BookPeople (Austin, TX)
“Over the past couple of years I’ve read dozens of books, both fiction and non-fiction, on the American experience of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and The Yellow Birds comes as close to what I imagine the emotional toll on our soldiers would be like. It’s a heart-breaking work, but one that reinforces my values of friendship and honor, and it is not a read that will leave my mind any time soon. The pacing and the pathos were spot-on, and I shutter to think what the world of letters would have lost, had Mr. Powers not survived his tours, and been unable to lay his soul bare to us all. I am excited for the September release of The Yellow Birds and will do everything that I can do to ensure that it enjoys the success that it so richly deserves.”
—Kevin Hunsanger, Green Apple Books and Music (San Francisco, CA)
“The Yellow Birds is an amazing, powerful and lyrical novel about one young soldier’s experience in Iraq. Kevin Powers is an Iraq War veteran and his ability to describe a small slice of the war will leave you devastated but with a clearer picture of what happens in this war as well as the loneliness, confusion and aimlessness of returning home. The main character, Private Bartle has developed war buddy bond with 18-year-old Private Murphy as they engage in a fierce and bloody battle for an Iraq city. The battle takes its toll physically and emotionally on these young men and both turn into people that they wouldn’t recognize. There are big questions in this book about truth, friendship, and moral courage. Powers became a poet after his time in Iraq (as a machine gunner in Mosul and Tal Afar Iraq) and this is evident in his beautiful prose and dust-coated descriptions of the everyday sights of this war-ravished country.”
Westwinds Bookshop (Duxbury, MA)
“Kevin Powers has written an instant classic.”
“‘The war tried to kill us in the spring.’ Even opening line of THE YELLOW BIRDS, light as it is, has the weight of a classic.”
Changing Hands Bookstore Twitter page (Tempe, AZ)
“With you all the way on THE YELLOW BIRDS. Canceled plans two nights in a row to stay home & read it. Remarkable book.”
BookPeople Twitter page (Austin, TX)