The road home from war is a long journey to rediscover who you are. Author Kevin Powers, who signed up for the Army at 17 and spent time as a machine gunner in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, wrote his award-winning novel, The Yellow Birds, as a way to help him process what he had experienced on the front lines.
“I started initially writing poems about the war,” he said during an interview with PBS NewsHour. “I’ve been writing poems and stories since I was about 13. And I realized that I needed a larger canvas to say what I wanted to say, to answer the question that people were asking me, which was what was it like over there.”
In the novel, we see life in a war zone through the eyes of 21-year-old private John Bartle. He is tasked with watching over Murph, a younger solider with less experience. Through startling imagery, Powers gives civilians a glimpse at the sacrifices service members make while protecting our freedoms. Powers explores the themes of helplessness and fear, of the harsh inequity on the battlefield, and of the struggle to rediscover “normal” after the tour of duty has ended.
The Yellow Birds won the 2013 PEN/Hemingway award for first fiction and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Powers holds an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin.