Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Book Review: "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien

I know embarrassingly little about the Vietnam War. I know broad strokes kind of things, mostly learned from various history classes and from my parents.I picked this book because it was on some "must read" book list and I haven't read a war book that didn't involve Nazis in quite some time. Funny thing,I wasn't paying attention when I was ordering this book from the library, so I accidentally got a large print version of the book. The book is not very long, even with super sized font, so the whole time I felt like I was reading a kid's  book with really adult subject matter. It wasn't all bad, I felt like I was reading super fast for how fast I was able to get through the pages!

This book is hard to categorize. It certainly is a book about war. It's a memoir, our narrator/author is recounting his time spent in Vietnam. It's a also a work of fiction because he freely admits that a lot the stories in this book did not happen in real life. It's a cautionary tale, a warning. It's surreal and complicated and frankly doesn't need to be categorized, because it is so good at just what being what it is, why put something in a box that doesn't need it?

The story that I enjoyed the most was that of Mary Anne. Mary Anne was the girlfriend of a soldier named Mark Fossie. They were high school sweetheart and totally devoted to each other. Mark and some of his buddies were joking about if it would be possible to bring in some girls from a near by country to "keep them company". Their outpost was isolate and lacking any kind of military discipline, so the idea wasn't THAT crazy. (I mean crazy yes, but not completely unfeasible). One day there's a woman in camp, and it's not someone coming to comfort all the men, it's just Fossie's girl, arrived from from Cleveland wearing culottes and an alluring pink sweater.She gets into the routine of military life, and is full of questions. How do certain weapons work? What is important about this camp? Basically normal questions if you get dropped into a foreign country with basically no idea what you're getting into. Then things start to shift in Mary Anne...

There's 2 really unfortunate stories about baby animals which I'm hoping fall under the umbrella of fiction.

You get used to hearing stories about the men and then some of them die in battle suddenly and you're kind of left reeling. You hear stories about the men and then some of them die once they get home, unused to the adjustment of getting back into their post-war world, and you're kind of left reeling.

There's stories of the things that they carried, literally. Some items everyone carried: dogs tags, flak jackets, a helmet, c rations, water, military payment certificates. Some carried gum, extra food, comic books,first aid supplies, and drugs.One man wore his girlfriends panty hose around his neck as a protection. Even after they broke up he wore them, they'd protected him in the past.

This book is hard and scary and compelling. I can't even imagine half of the things they had to go through. I can see why this book is on so many lists of greats. I give it a 3.5 out of 5, though I don't think I will ever read it again!



  1. Ooh! Now THIS sounds like a book I need to read! I love military fiction.

    1. Yeah, it's an interesting book because part of it is true, part of it he freely admits is fiction, but then he doesn't tell you which is which. I hoped all the sad parts were made up but Im sure thats not true!


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