Book Review – The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

I finished this book in one sitting on a two-hour plane ride. It’s that readable, that engaging. While it’s worthwhile to study about the Vietnam conflict it’s also necessary to hear the voices of those who were there. The motif of carried objects as portals into stories about individuals the author knew and served with personally in Vietnam is compelling.

O’Brien is careful and also explicit about not wanting to create moral lessons for his readers to grasp, but rather to simply say what he remembers about what happened and who it happened to. This is helpful but of course one can’t read a biographical account of a war like this without being viscerally reminded of the awfulness of war, whether it is a just or justified or necessary engagement or something less definable. The very real and permanent loss of life should be a constant guard and exhortation to be firm in resolve but also wise in how we spend that blood and those lives and relationships.

Even if you’re not a history buff I think you’ll find this a compelling read. Names and dates and the details of history most have learned to shudder and avoid are kept to a minimum so that the names and the lives and actions of real men and women might stand clearer. Those men and women might have served in any conflict in any part of the world and the stories would be substantively the same. This doesn’t trivialize the concrete reality of Vietnam as a location for conflict, but reminds us that immense loss, immense horror, and immense beauty can and do exist most anywhere and at anytime.

Perhaps we should be more intentional about seeing them and interacting with them when we have the chance.

One Response to “Book Review – The Things They Carried”

  1. JP Says:

    I’ve always wanted to read this and never gotten to it. Perhaps this review will get me there! Thanks!

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