The Yellow Birds was one of my Top 5 reads for 2012 and a book I don’t think I’ll ever forget. It is gut-wrenchingly beautiful. Which sounds odd for a novel about war but Kevin Powers is able to evocatively capture not only what is happening to the physical landscape of the novel but also the mental landscape. I have never read a book that captures the disintegration of humanity but also the power of humanity quite like The Yellow Birds. It was a book I managed to read twice, which as a bookseller is a very rare occurrence. The book has received many accolades, all deservedly so, including winning The Guardian First Book Award and being short listed for the National Book Award. Kevin Powers is currently in Australia for the Adelaide Writers Festival and kindly answered a few questions.
1. What led you to join the army at 17?
It’s difficult to point to any one reason. I come from a family in which military service is fairly common. Also, I wasn’t a very good student in high school, so the idea of having my education paid for was particularly attractive. Then there is the fact that I was seventeen, idealistic, and bored with my fairly limited existence.
2. What inspired you to become a writer?
The simple answer is The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas, a copy of which I found in a used bookstore when I was about 12 or 13. That led me to try writing poems for the first time.
3. Why did you choose to write about the War in Iraq?
Writing is the only even remotely satisfying way I’ve found of contending with the questions I have about the world. Given my service in Iraq, many of those questions were specifically related to the war. I felt a need to try to ask them. I don’t know that I found any answers. I don’t know even know if there are any.
4. The Yellow Birds is a work of fiction what did you choose to write a novel instead of a memoir?
The imagination can illuminate the world in a way that recitation of fact may not be able to. By giving myself the freedom to arrange events and ideas, to change those arrangements when necessary, I hoped that I’d be able to see a very small part of reality in a new way.
5. Have any of the people you served with read your book? What has their reaction been?
I know a couple of guys have. We didn’t get into in depth conversations about the book, though. They said they were proud of me and left it at that. I imagine that if we were to put that question to other veterans, we’d have a distribution of opinion more or less in line with the general population, which is to say that some people will appreciate it, some will hate it, and most won’t know or care that it exists.
6. Are you finished writing about the War in Iraq or do you think there are more stories that need to be told?
I honestly don’t know. I can say I’m not prepared to close the door on the subject, but just right now I’m preoccupied with other questions.
7. What was the hardest scene to write in The Yellow Birds?
Difficulty is hard to quantify as it relates to writing. The whole thing was difficult for different reasons at different times. There was one passage, though, about two thirds of the way through the book on which I thought the whole thing more or less hinged. I don’t know if it was difficult as much as I was really hoping it would do what I intended it to do.
8. The Yellow Birds has two distinctive covers in the US and in the UK/Australia. Is there one you prefer over the other?
I’m actually really quite partial to the UK paperback cover.
9. What other writers have inspired you?
I mentioned Thomas, also Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe. Cormac McCarthy and Larry Levis. Robert Haas and James Wright. Jamaica Kincaid and Brigit Pegeen Kelly.
10. What have you been reading lately?
I just read an advanced copy of a novel by Philipp Meyer called The Son. It’s extraordinary, an epic of the American West. And because I’m coming to Australia soon, I just picked up Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines, which has me utterly entranced.
Classification: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
Format: Paperback (17mm x 130mm x 197mm)
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division
Publish Date: 27-Jun-2013
Country of Publication: United Kingdom