Things They Carried

O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Broadway Books, 1998.

I admit it. I have picked this book up three different times now. Technically, I should have read it in March to celebrate the day U.S. troops pulled out of Vietnam (March 1975), but as you can tell, there were plenty of other things to reach for in March…
Nope, I cracked this book open for no other reason than sheer boredom. I finished Peter Pan and The Ground Beneath Her Feet and decided I wasn’t up for The Joy Luck Club…at least not right now. The Things They Carried has been hanging around my office for months now. It just seemed to say “read me” and the time was right. I am so very glad.

This was an amazingly moving book. I had a hard time getting into it the first two times I picked it up, but the third time was a charm because after that I couldn’t put it down. Tim O’Brien writes with such ferocious honesty. He calls it a fiction but it easily could have been the truth. The shocking violence, the depths of sadness, the urgency to survive, the humble efforts to maintain sanity and the humor that survives it all…each chapter is a short story of all of these things. Each story stands alone, complete as it is, yet connects beautifully to the story before it as well as the one after it. Peter S. Prescott from Newsweek said the stories “bounce off each other…” and I would agree.
I could quote nearly each story, but here are my favorites:
“They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terible power of the things they carried” (p 7). The reason why this quote stuck with me is because O’Brien spends the opening chapter listing everything a soldier carried in the Vietnam war. Both the physical and mental, the essential and the sentimental. This quote sums up how they never forgot why they were carrying everything else.
“The problem, though, was that a draft board did not let you choose your war” (p 44). I found this to be one of the most humanitarian statements of the book. O’Brien had just finished explaining that some wars were justified, like stopping Hitler, but in this case he was drafted to fight a war he didn’t understand.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter “Vietnam” (p 239).
ps~ one of the reasons for starting the Book Lust challenge was to find writers I could fall in love with. I wanted one book that would spark an obsession. Much like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale or Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams or Katherine Weber’s Objects in the Mirror are Closer than They Appear. All of these books created a rabid need to read anything else written by the authors. I found such an obsession with The Things they Carried. I will go on to get my hands on any and everything Tim O’Brien has written before and since.

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