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.

1 comment:

Trish said...

I finally stopped trying to figure out what was real and what wasn't. I really enjoyed this book and glad you did, too. Have you read A Rumor of War? I think you'd really like that one.