Last Sunday, a lively discussion took place at the WA museum in Albany centered around Kevin Powers’ novel The Yellow Birds. I had the good fortune of attending this Write in the Great Southern community book club event.
It was incredibly engaging to hear Sue Calvert Lodge’s opinions about this novel. Her reading of the text led her to share some of the personal experiences she garnered from a former life counseling refugees of war. Sue was able to make interesting comparisons between the devastating after effects of war on the psyche of civilians and that of the individual as soldier.
The next speaker, Graham Maddy, has served as a soldier and is currently a Lawyer here in Albany. Graham confirmed that Powers’ novel is incredibly powerful in its ability to accurately illustrate how it feels to be inside a war as a person serving as a soldier. He appeared particularly impressed the book does not focus upon the politics of war but rather the individual’s experience.
Graham spoke candidly and honestly of how when a soldier returns from service, they return with a sense that no one other than other soldiers can fully comprehend what they have been through physically or mentally, and that this experience is incredibly isolating. He was hopeful that for young men choosing to become soldiers, this novel might give a clearer perspective of what potentially awaits them should they be called upon to serve; the unspoken truth of the situation, making sense of the traumatic experiences that await them in that role, preparing them for the jarring after-effects and return to civilian life.
Refugee advocate Heather Marr was angered by this book and its lack of challenging politics and focused her time as panelist upon her experiences working with refugees whose lives have been torn apart by war. Heather passionately spoke of her own political beliefs and shared honestly her opinions about war and her opinions about soldiers and the unquestioning loyalty with which they follow orders. Heather was clearly disappointed that The Yellow Birds did not delve into the destructive effects of war upon innocent civilians.
Social worker and pacifist Crispin Travers was unimpressed by this novel. He felt The Yellow Birds plot unimaginative and developed based on formula, citing several other war novels as examples of this.
Several community contributors shared their opinions of the book. I personally thanked the panel for hosting such a robust discussion, full of diverse opinion and took the opportunity to make the comment that while I share some of the political beliefs about war that were espoused by Heather and Crispin, I was thankful I was able to put aside that agenda and read this novel for what it is. Having never experienced war in any capacity first hand, my at-arms-length views on this subject have previously only been coloured by recounts of war from a civilian point of view, for which I have developed absolute compassion. I expressed that I felt enriched by the experience of reading The Yellow Birds as I had never actually considered the personal experience of the individual soldier.
To read my blog about Kevin Powers’ novel The Yellow Birds, click here.