An author's note says Kevin Powers "served in the U.S. Army in 2004 and 2005 in Iraq, where he was deployed as a machine gunner in Mosul and Tal Afar." A Virginia native, he was the Michener Fellow in Poetry at the University of Texas at Austin.
His novel, "The Yellow Birds" ($14.99 in paperback from Little, Brown and Company/Back Bay Books; and in Amazon Kindle format), is the searing tale of John Bartle, fighting in Northern Iraq, pledged to help his buddy Daniel Murphy, just 18. Bartle was asked by Mrs. Murphy to keep her son safe. "I promise," he said. "I promise I'll bring him home to you."
It didn't work out that way.
Part of Bartle's story is what happened in Iraq, yet afterward, what does it mean? For him, life has only "an undetermined future, no destiny, no veined hand reaching into our lives, just what happened and our watching it."
Bartle, now in his thirties, is looking back. He was a 21-year-old going to war. Bart and Murph work closely together under the watchful eye of Sergeant Sterling, also young, and for a while, it seems, all three would survive. But it doesn't work out that way.
Bartle remembers Murph as still a kid, joking around. "I remember that part of him fondly, before he was lost, before he surrendered fully to the war, twisting through the air, perhaps one beat of his heart remaining as they threw his tortured body from the window of the minaret."
The great irony for Bartle is that he is welcomed home to high-fives from his friends. His words are laconic, but his thought-life troubled. "I feel like I'm being eaten from the inside out and I can't tell anyone what's going on because everyone is so grateful to me all the time and I'll feel like I'm ungrateful or something. Or like I'll give away that I don't deserve anyone's gratitude and really they should all hate me for what I've done but everyone loves me for it and it's driving me crazy."
Butte College (butte.edu/bic) , Chico State University (csuchico.edu/bic), and various community groups are scheduling Book In Common events the next several months--discussing issues that require full measures of courage and grace.