The Things They Carried: Book Review

The characters and situational plots bring a sense of depth to the Vietnam War that is not always confronted or even appreciated. The novel’s stories are recounted from a narrative perspective describing occurrences within a platoon of the Alpha Company serving in Vietnam. O’Brien himself Is the narrator describing through flash backs and written Journal entries what the war was like through his eyes. The flashbacks are not written In sequence; rather, they jump from one point in time to another as they might in any real soldier’s thoughts.
This unique perspective gives insight to how a former soldier thinks and dreams about what he encountered. The language of the book is true to the culture and creates doubt that any of the characters or events are fictional. The platoon is made up of several important characters all having their own unique quirks, habits, ambitions and dreams. Death, Injury and surviving are undoubtedly key elements to the stories, as are the things the soldiers carried with them. From emotions and memories to weapons and supplies, the things they carried are extensive both in context and in quantity.
Each individual story within the book is a memory of O’Brien and sometimes is told from the perspective of his companion oldie’s. The stories carry with them elements of grief, love, passion and guilt and the setting details are so Intense the reader can practically hear the firing of arms In the background. O’Brien mission of recounting the Vietnam war through a soldier perspective Is accomplished and a new side of history is revealed even through these fictional occurrences.

Frequently, the Vietnam War is remembered for its controversy, longevity and brutality; rarely is the individual soldier’s story counted as a valid part of this history. O’Brien reminds the reader that for the soldiers fighting and dying, the AR was not political or something to be protested; It was simply a stage in life that they so desperately hoped to live through. The history that the novel offers Is one that is accurate and in tune with thousands of deceased and former soldier’s experiences and is a version of history that is as accurate as any other.
Author Tim O’Brien did a remarkable Job at incorporating himself into the story and into the life of Vietnam veteran. His ability to make the reader feel what he felt, both during and in the years after the war, Is noteworthy as Is his ability to retell erosion of the same story from various character perspectives. Despite these being honest is hard to determine. Several times his narration alerts the reader that what he is retelling may or may not be accurate and asserts that fabricating stories is the heart of a true war story.
In moments throughout the novel, and especially towards the end, the reader is left to second guess why the fictional O’Brien dreamed up so many elaborate details, or if he even did. This confusion was one part of the novel that I personally could have done without. Regardless, the heart of the novel emends the reader how valuable a soldier’s perspective is to history. One of the most realistic issues raised is that of how returning soldiers are treated. Especially in the Vietnam era, veterans felt a since of dismissal, lack of respect, and a longing to return to the war they both hated and loved.
Today’s generation of veterans similarly experience these emotions, betrayals and face issues of depression, PUTS and reforming themselves to fit into the civilian world. I believe it was O’Brien aim to bring awareness to the loneliness war veterans’ feel and the lack of respect they too often experience. It is novels like The Things They Carried that can help to articulate the emotions that these veterans wish they could express themselves but often suppress instead. This novel is relevant to anyone wanting to learn more about the Vietnam War from an informal, non-political perspective.
Though fictional, the content is based on realistic events and happenings throughout the United States and in Vietnam. It gives insight to the impact that the draft had on young, American men and how they sometimes coped with receiving orders to deploy despite their own set of ambitions. The novel informs the reader on the various roles the soldiers had, the disconnect they experienced with the outside world and higher-ranking commanders, and what they encountered after returning home.
Unlike history textbooks, The Things They Carried uses pathos to create an impact with the reader that will likely remain intact far longer than the official historical perspective. Reading this novel was a rewarding experience primarily because it is not a novel I would have normally read. However, after doing so, I am anxious to read other war stories Tim O’Brien has written. As a former military spouse, I experienced war from a different perspective. My version of war is one that consists of waiting, worrying and being lonely.
I related a lot of the content I was reading to stories told (and UN-told) by my own veteran husband. I especially loved how a substantial part of the language and acronyms used is something that only those with military experience or knowledge can truly appreciate and comprehend. Using this military cultural language made the stories seem more fact than fiction. Previous to this class, I had little understanding of previous wars. Now, I’m better able to imagine and attempt to understand what it is that soldiers endure and the honor they truly deserve before and after returning home.
Overall, Tim O’Brien has done history the great favor of writing this novel to help illustrate the impact of the Vietnam War. It is fast-paced, enjoyable and written from an interesting angle. I enjoyed reading it and believe I learned more about Vietnam than I would have from any other non-fiction source. I am confident that anyone interested in learning about war and experiencing a soldier’s love and loss will appreciate this great historical fiction novel as well.

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