Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

Title: The Things They Carried
Author: Tim O'Brien
Pages: 246

I have been wanting to read this book for a while after a family friend and I got to talking about it. I have always found it interesting what soldiers carry with them. Things that they are required to have, but what other little things to they keep close to them to keep them connected to loved ones they are separated from?

The writing style seemed so broken and scattered, but as I continued to read, it started to make sense as to why it was written that way. Things in times of war are not logical. Bad things happen to those around you and there are times when you have to distance yourself from them. Memories come back in splashes of images and are not usually conjoined in perfect form. This is kind of how the story was presented. He did have a great explanation of why he writes the stories he writes -

"I feel guilty sometimes. Forty-three years old and I'm still writing war stories. My daughter Kathleen tells me it's an obsession, that I should write about a little girl who finds a million dollars and spends it all on a Shetland pony. In a way, I guess, she's right. I should forget it. But the thing about remembering is that you don't forget. You take your material where you find it, which is in your life, at the intersection of past and present. The memory-traffic feeds into a rotary up on your head, where it goes in circles for a while, then pretty soon imagination flows in and the traffic merges and shoots off down a thousand different streets. As a writer, all you can do is pick a street and go for the ride, putting things down as they come at you. That's the real obsession. All those stories." Pg (34-35)

The only thing that started to aggravate me was trying to figure out which pieces of the stories being told were things that actually happened to Mr. O'Brien while he was serving his country and which were figments of his imagination. All that aside, it was a wonderfully told story of the things that become important to a soldier while he is in a combat zone away from his family, friends and loved ones. The things they carried, were often times of significance to them, or things they would need to do their jobs and survive.

"The things they carried were determined to some extent by superstition. Lieutenant Cross carried his good-luck pebble. Dave Jensen carried a rabbit's foot. Norman Bowker, otherwise a very gentle person, carried a thumb that has been presented to him as a gift by Mitchell Sanders. The thumb was dark brown, rubbery to the touch, and weighed 4 ounces at most"(Pg. 13).

After the things that soldiers see and experience during a time of war, the smallest memento or memory from home can be a powerful thing. This was definitely a eye-opening book, and being a war story, there are some very descriptive parts and some that just made my stomach ache. It also made me appreciate even more the things our soldiers do to protect us back home.

Tim O'Brien really puts you on the front lines of action, has you holding a weapon that just ended the life of an enemy, that upon further reflection was just doing their job,too, all the way into the mind of someone who is juggling with the idea of being drafted into something he doesn't believe in or taking that step to dodge and run for the Canadian border. No matter where each chapter drops you, you always feel as though you are right there with them. Experiencing and seeing whatever they happened to be a part of at the moment.

Definitely a good read for anyone interested in Vietnam, or any war for that matter.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Title: The Historian
Author: Elizabeth Kostova
Pages: 909

This was not a typical book for me. I have never really been one to be super interested in witchcraft and Dracula and other mythical characters. When I was younger I watched Buffy a little, but just never really felt drawn to it. After being given a short synopsis from a friend at work, I knew it was something I had to at least try to read. Well, I can definitely say that I was completely surprised by how facinated I became with the story and how much I've wanted to read Bram Stoker's Dracula since I finished.

The descriptions in this book are wonderful! They are so vivid and alive, that you feel like you are standing there with the character, seeing everything around them for yourself. There are some places that were mentioned in the book that I would love to travel to. The writing flows so smoothly that you do not get caught up in the number of pages that are just flying by. Large books can often times be daunting, but I believe that a good writer can make you forget about the number of pages, because you become so wrapped up in the story being told you forget about the number and often times end up wanting more at the end.

The way that she used letters, journal entries and research to reveal details about the story as it was unfolding in both the past and present was very entertaining. The story unravels over four decades, from the 1930's to the 1970's as the main character learns about her father's most precious secrets. Traveling all over Europe to find his missing mentor, who was also a recipient of the special dragon book. Pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place, but will they be able to solve their mystery before it's too late?

Here is one of my favorite passages:

"Looking back at that moment, I understand that I had lived in books so long, in my narrow university setting, that I had become compressed by them internally. Suddenly, in this echoing house of Byzantium - one of the wonders of history - my spirit leaped out of its confines. I knew in that instant that, whatever happened, I could never go back to my old constraints. I wanted to follow life upward, to expand with it outward, the way this enormous interior swelled upward and outward. My heart swelled with it, as it never had during all my wanderings amoung the Dutch merchants." (pg. 258-259)

I was kind of disappointed in the ending, but I'm also a little confused by it. I'm just feel like there is something there that I'm not completely understanding. This is definitely one of those books that I wanted to keep going. I do love that in this book Dracula himself has quite a literary collection. I find it amusing that he would have such a love for books.

This is a great book that I would highly recommend to anyone who has not yet read it!