The Yellow Birds is an emotionally pulling novel, set during a war in Iraq. This war story takes a central focus, on the relationships formed between two soldiers trying to stay alive on the battlefield. The reader is taken through the journey of the soldiers’ lives before, during and after the war. Where we receive a realistic peek, into the effects war can have on the soldier’s minds, bodies and also their relationships. It truly offers the reader, a realistic tale of loss, heartache, and redemption.
As the novel begins veteran soldier, Sergeant Sterling assigns Private John Bartle to watch over Private Daniel Murphy as the war approaches. The 21-year-old Bartle, is not very enthusiastic about his new position of mentor to his 18-year-old colleague. Bartle does not desire the extra responsibility, but this changes as he spends time with Murphy.
Bartle later in the novel, vows to both Murphy’s mother and Sergeant Sterling that he will keep Murphy safe during the war. Bartle realizes the challenge he will face in keeping this promise as Murphy’s attitude changes drastically. During the war, Murphy became unmotivated and also distant. Murphy points out, that he does not want to maintain any relationships, from the war when he returns home. Murphy’s attitude wounds Bartle greatly, as he truly cares for Murphy and wants him to survive. Sergeant Sterling, however, does not believe Murphy will survive, as he believes that the young Private has given up. Bartle refuses to believe the sergeant’s prediction and becomes more driven to help his friend to survive. This, unfortunately, does not save Murphy from meeting his demise.
Murphy decides to journey away from their outpost, where he is gruesomely killed. Bartle is devastated as he was unable to save Murphy. Bartle has a very hard time coming to terms with the tragedy. This along with his desire for Murphy’s mother to see her son’s mangled body drives him to make a heinous decision. Bartle along with Sergeant Sterling work together to hide Murphy’s corpse within a nearby river. They then return to the troops to falsely inform them that they never found Murphy’s body.
Bartle, Sterling and other members of the troops do manage to survive and return home. Bartle tries to deal with the guilt of his actions and turns to drinking and isolating himself from others. His vice cannot save him from the guilt of his crime nor from justice. His actions are eventually uncovered by the army and he is both arrested and convicted. A similar fate also awaited Sterling, as the news of his actions also reach the surface. The sergeant chooses to take a different means of dealing with the situation. Though he does try to at least come to Bartle’s aide, as he not informs the army of Bartle’s involvement. The arrest of Bartle however, brought a sense of peace to Murphy’s mother. As she had continually questioned the army about the circumstances surrounding her son’s death.
Near the novel’s end, Bartle manages to come to terms with the events which occurred during the war and also Murphy’s death. After he is released from prison he retires to a cabin alone in the woods.
There he begins writing this very novel, to begin mending his remaining wounds from the war.
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