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Review: "The Things They Carried," by Tim O'Brien

This book opens with 40 reviews spread over eight pages that praise this book to the ultimate degree. Those critics are much better writers than I, but I will try to do this book justice. Let me start by saying that I have read a couple books about the Vietnam War, I’ve seen all the movies and read a million articles. Nothing, absolutely nothing, touched me the way this book did. O’Brien has the sense of a master craftsman as he goes about showing us the personal, intimate horrors and details of the war, yet he wraps the entire experience in a quilt of storytelling that brings us there, yet tries to give us the narrow room to think about the war, this war, any war and what it does to people. There are incidents, mostly brutal, but a tight camaraderie that turns inward and revels in the companionship and madness of the war. For me, even more intensely brilliant, are the passages that talk about the truth, what is truth, how is the truth told and embellished and long passages about storytelling. Being involved in storytelling as a pastime and part-time profession I am always fascinated by the power of storytelling. What it does to the storyteller. What it does to the audience. How the connection between teller and listener forges something personal, intimate and life changing. How the story shapes our beliefs, our understanding, even our reality. O’Brien is brutally honest about his own diffidence and disdain, even cruelty, mingled with his sense of right and wrong and his attempts to stay “correct”. A chapter regarding his decision to respond to his draft notice as opposed to taking off to Canada are simply brilliant. His ruminating on what the jungle does, what the death of comrades does, and the distance that grows between those who experienced it and those who did not are all astounding. Alert: p. 58 “I was a coward”. And p. 65 “A true war story is never moral”. Read this story and pray that no one you know will ever have to go to war.

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