The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is a powerful story of fictional experiences. His storytelling is a mix of life as a child, before the war, serving in a platoon, and after the war back at home trying to recover from the war. It is also about returning to the battlefield.
It was enjoyable to see Tim O’Brien interviewed extensively in the new Ken Burns documentary The Vietnam War. O’Brien’s opening chapter is quoted in the show.
The book also describes a girl from his childhood who died in grade school and he describes how she looked at the funeral home. This story seems to prep him up for serving in Vietnam.
He shares the struggles to decide whether to avoid military service by fleeing to Canada. His story about the duty to country, the hometown feeling that you are required to follow the family and friends who answered the call to fight in World War II.
The book shares an experience with Lt. Jimmy Cross who reconnects to recall their friends who served or died in the war. this includes chapters about Kiowa and Bowker.
Norman Bowker suggested to Tim O’Brien that he write “Speaking of Courage” which could be suggested was actually the story of how Bowker struggled with life after the war. Bowker would hang himself three years after suggesting the title. O’Brien would write about how Bowker struggled to hold a job, lived with his parents and dropped out of junior college when everything in class was to abstract, or distant to Norman Bowker.
In Speaking of Courage, O’Brien wrote about the death of Kiowa. Kiowa was O’Brien’s good friend. Many years after Kiowa’s gruesome death O’Brien brings himself back to that location to teach a lesson to his daughter who comes to Vietnam to be with her father while she tries to understand why he cannot put the war behind him.
The Things They Carried is a powerful work for anyone who needs to understand how war impacts the lives of soldiers.