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The Things They Carried book review

The Things They Carried

Tim O’Brien

Realistic Fiction/War

233 Pages

 

The Things They Carried is a collection of war stories from the Vietnam War. O’Brien points out more than once in the book that it is a work of fiction, and not real; however, the stories certainly have a ring of truth. I’m sure that they are altered, but I would imagine that there is a lot of truth to many of the stories in this novel. It tells of O’Brien’s own experiences in the war, and over the course of the book, you get to know him and some other members of his platoon.

 

This novel begins by talking about what the soldiers carried, both by necessity and by choice. There is a lot of information and specifics here, but I found none of it boring. It was very interesting to learn about the specific weights of weapons, supplies, and other things that they carried. I imagined myself in their shoes, and thought about how hard it would be to lug everything around in the middle of a war that they were required to carry. I have never been to war, and I respect those that have. This novel brings to light some of the unimaginable things that those in war have to deal with. It shows the skills they pick up in order to cope with what becomes everyday life to them, things many of us might find savage and unable to understand.

 

O’Brien had a lot of thoughts in this book that I really liked. One thing he said was, “But the thing about remembering is that you don’t forget” (33). He writes because he was there. He writes because he can’t forget and this is his way of dealing with it, almost like a therapy, it seems. He goes on to talk about war stories and they purpose they serve. “That’s what war stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night where you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story” (36). O’Brien isn’t able to forget, and he doesn’t want us to forget.

 

I can understand why this book might be hard for some to read. I imagine that for those who have been to war, this might bring back some memories that had been repressed. I imagine that for those who have been affected by relatives who have come home from war different, it could be a hard thing to read. I also think that it is an important book that could lend some understand to those of us who haven’t been to war. One other quote from the novel that I liked is this: “War is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead” (76).

 

My one complaint with the novel was that the timeline was a little messy. He jumped back and forth a bit to before the war, during the war, later in the war, earlier in the war, etc. That aspect of it made parts of it harder for me to follow. However, I think that most of the chapters in the book would have worked standing alone on their own, so it wasn’t that big of a deal, I just prefer things in chronological order. I think that anyone interested in war or learning about the Vietnam War experiences in particular would like this novel. As I said, it is a work of fiction, but I wouldn’t be surprised if much of it was true, or at least derived from true events. I enjoyed reading this book, and will look at more of O’Brien’s works in the future. I wouldn’t recommend this book to younger readers, because of some of the content included. I mean, it is war, so there are going to be things disturbing inside. There is also some course language, but I felt like it was purely in context with the soldiers and lifestyles they were in. However, if it would bother you, beware, because it is in there.

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