War, What is it Good for?

Two excellent novels dealing with the Iraq War land this month on bookstore shelves, but they couldn’t be more different.

Kevin Powers wrote Yellow Birds in 2006, after two years in Iraq. His experience obviously shapes this novel about twenty-one year old Private Bartle and the younger eighteen year old Private Murphy. Bartle is charged with taking care of Murphy while deployed in Iraq. Powers tells their stories going back and forth between the war and the return home. He also makes you feel the the psychological effects of the war with the brutal descriptions of the soldiers becoming more and more aware of the pointlessness of their actions. Someone shoots someone and then they retaliate, going on and on and on in an endless loop. Powers makes you see and feel through Bartle’s eyes, a somewhat scary but powerful feeling.

Often the war gets drilled down to facts, drowning out everything to do with feelings. This is where David Abram’s novel Fobbit gets its story. His satire, which features the Army’s public affairs office or PAO in Baghdad, gets its from an acronym; FOB is Forward Operating Base with the “-bit” added to remind you of the Hobbit. The soldiers on the front lines don’t have particularly high opinions of those working back at the base, avoiding combat. The many acronyms thrown around in the novel only highlight how far removed they are from normal lives. Fobbit manages to be both ridiculous and serious at the same time. In Abram’s depiction of the war, those who are deployed to the war but not on the front line get their own version of PTSD. The folks back at home only get to see a portrait of the war that has been heavily edited by the Army’s PAO office. This black comedy works with enough absurdity mixed with real gory details.

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