Friday, June 6, 2008

Book Review: The Things They Carried

Author: Tim O'Brien

Pages: 246

Genre: Fiction

Personal Rating: 5/5

From the back cover:
They carried malaria tablets, love letters, 28-pound mine detectors, dope, illustrated Bibles, each other. And, if they made it home alive, they carried unrelenting images of a nightmarish war that history is only beginning to absorb. Since it was first published, The Things They Carried has become an unparalleled Vietnam testament, a classic work of American literature and a profound study of men at war that illuminates the capacity, and the limits, of the human heart and soul.
I read this book in one sitting. It was that good. I started this afternoon and finished this evening. It is fiction, but it makes you wonder how much of it is actually true. I haven't researched O'Brien or read any of his other works so I don't know if he actually served in Vietnam. I was enthralled by this book, by the stories he told. For a few hours I had a small glimpse into what it may have been like at some points in time, for some men in Vietnam. The capacity for horror, love and coping that O'Brien is able to convey is amazing. I'm considering picking up some of his other books to see if they are as good as this one.

O'Brien writes about how he considered fleeing to Canada to avoid the draft. Here is a paragraph that I really liked
My hometown was a conservative little spot on the prairie, a place where tradition counted, and it was easy to imagine people sitting around a table down at the old Gobbler Cafe on Main Street, coffee cups poised, the conversation slowly zeroing in on the young O'Brien kid, how the damned sissy had taken off for Canada. At night, when I couldn't sleep, I'd sometimes carry on fierce arguments with those people. I'd be screaming at them, telling them how much I detested their blind, thoughtless, automatic acquiescence to it all, their simpleminded patriotism, their prideful ignorance, their love-it-or-leave-it platitudes, how they were sending me off to fight a war they didn't understand and didn't want to understand. I held them responsible. By God, yes, I did. All of them--I held them personally and individually responsible--the polyestered Kiwanis boys, the merchants and farmers, the pious churchgoers, the chatty housewives, the PTA, and the Lions club and the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the fine upstanding gentry out at the country club. They didn't know the Bao Dai from the man in the moon. They didn't know history. They didn't know the first thing about Diem's tyranny, or the nature of Vietnamese nationalism, or the long colonialism or the French--this was all too damned complicated, it required some reading--but no matter, it was a war to stop the Communists, plain and simple, which was how they liked things, and you were a treasonous pussy if you had second thoughts about killing or dying for plain and simple reasons.

If you have reviewed this book and would like me to link to your review please let me know in the comments!


bethany said...

oh, I must get this book! It sounds so interesting, the quotes are incredible!! Great review!

Literary Feline said...

I gave this book to my dad a few years ago as a gift and made him promise to let me read it when he was done. I think he forgot. Haha He really liked it though and I do hope to read it one of these days.

Jeane said...

I have this one on my TBR. It sounds very good!

Hannah said...

I randomly came across your blog doing research on this book for a college project and I wanted to let you know that, yes, Tim O'Brien did serve in Vietnam. He served in the U.S. Army’s
Fifth Battalion, Forty-Sixth Infantry from January 1969
to March 1970. He returned to the US in 1970 with a purple heart. (

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