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The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

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The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brian is an inspiring piece of literature, a new look into the lives of soldiers fighting a war. There are no miracles in this book. Each chapter is about life inside the Vietnamese War where life is harsh and hope is few. Though fiction, this book (as the tile might suggest) shows the burdens of men who must fight for their lives, in a world of death. This book, no matter how gruesome or shocking, could not be put down for it truly is a genre of it's own.

There are many things we are burdened with, some more than others. Tim O'Brian shows this through his book, whether when people die, or something is to be carried. No matter if it's a physical or mental burden, a burden is still a burden. Ironically, the subtle motto that is implanted throughout the book is to face your consequences and live with them. This theme only clearly shows up at the worst moments, like a grenade gone wrong, and hides itself like a fox, always there in waiting. These are lives of people, many barely 20, and there are many huge consequences for even the smallest of mistakes. There is no doubt that war is not merciful.

Unlike most books, The Things They Carried is not one to “go with the flow.” It's almost a regular novel, made of short stories all pertaining to the one, bigger picture. Each is unique, whether in perspective or content, and many characters have their own short story during the overall time the book takes place. Now Tim O' Brian has the most chapters dedicated to him. He is the main character. You thought I was talking about the author? Nahh. Tim O' Brian (the author) named the main character (also the narrator) Tim O' Brian (the character) after himself, which through me for a loop. It's this factor that made me think of the book as more of an autobiography rather than fiction, though I would not know if the author as personal experience fighting a war (it certainly sounds as if he does). This unique structure is what drew me in, and what made me abandon time to finish. I think it's really worth it.

A network is the only thing I can think of when thinking of the connections to be made throughout this book. Mainly The Things They Carried is a story about people, not cars, or trees, or fish. They have emotions, siblings, girlfriends, and burdens. However, the most prominent connection was made between Norman Bowker, and Andy, who is from Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper. Both overwhelmed by grief with the death of a close friend commit suicide. Albeit Norman commits suicide a few years later, while Andy does so around a year later. Consumed with guilt, a human burden, they were.

I suppose feelings should be the last thing one thinks when reading this book. People are more inclined (at my age) to think “how shocking,” and continue on. However, my favorite part is one of those places where one might be torn between sympathetic and acting apathetic. This guy, a soldier, writes his girlfriend a letter. His girlfriend flies in, and she visits her boyfriend in the barracks. She's nice, smart, and understanding, and she's eager to learn about the war. All the soldiers love her, the ideal girlfriend anyone could want. Then she starts going missing, for a few minutes, a few hours. The boyfriend doesn't notice, and when he does, he believes she's cheating on him with another soldier. Turns out he was completely wrong. She had fallen in love with war. “She had crossed to the other side. She was part of the land. She was wearing her culottes, her pink sweater, and a necklace of human tongues. She was dangerous. She was ready for the kill.” I mean seriously, I would feel bad for her boyfriend.

Overall, The Things They Carried is a stirring view into the Vietnamese War. The trivial bits of dry humor, gore, and irony leave you turning each page, before reluctantly setting a bookmark between the pages to settle down and sleep. Through the book, each character grabs your attention, whether it's those who perished, or those lost to the ‘other' confines of war. I would recommend this book for anyone and everyone mature enough to handle gore and certain words. It certainly wormed its way onto my list of favorite books; maybe it would do the same for you?





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