Literature, Reviews.

The burden of combat


Vietnam, 1966, US heavy weapons. PD-USGOV.


Book Book Review, Title The Things They Carried, Author Tim O'Brien, Rating 4.0,

The Things They Carried

Tim O'Brien

Book Review

Tim O'Brien's Vietnam War combat memoir describes the harrowing emotional toll taken on combat veterans. O'Brien's combat experience and facility as a writer helps to illuminate the pervasive fear he and other combat veterans experienced, and the resulting distortions it had on their behavior. I found it difficult and compelling reading.

I have known several Vietnam combat veterans in my life, and they each seemed damaged in some permanent way by their war experiences. One of the novels they each recommended that gave some semblance of their own stories was O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato, which I read awhile back; A more recent reading of The Things They Carried, another of O’Brien’s novels, brought a similar sensibility. The impossibility of fathoming the harsh experiences of another does not keep us from an empathetic effort to consider their stories, to gain some small glimmer of understanding of the suffering that war brings.

It is written as a set of related vignettes, short-story-like, which explore the short bursts of violence and the long periods between fighting that weighed upon the soldiers of this combat infantry platoon. The loss of a comrade produced deep and long-lasting emotional effects for these men, including fantasies inspired by perhaps misplaced guilt: ‘If I only had done this, my comrade would still be alive.’

Melinda Miles recently recommended this novel by O’Brien, as part of a conversation about what books were being read recently in high school.

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