Tim O’Brien: The Things they Carried
It’s an interesting title… The things they carried. All of us carry something or the other all the time – happiness, guilt, words, pride, dreams, anticipation, shadows, secrets, the past, the moment… the sky!
But here Tim nails it down to a select few and the things they bore, lugged, nursed, sheltered, and ran away from.
“They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing… they carried the common secret cowardice barely restrained.”
There are several well written war journals, especially on Vietnam. In this one, Tim speaks to you of all the things he carries – deep in his mind, on his skin, in his dreams – the illusions, and the brazen truth. Comrades and ghosts, dusk and clouds, the greys and red, always red, of odours and trails, courage and humour, fiction and death… they all move about and follow Tim’s words, existing, lingering, never leaving.
“A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil. ”
His tone is straightforward and simple, not heavily laden. Undemanding and unabashed, he lays out things for you to inspect freely – no favouritism, like it is. These innumerable “things” are nothing more than a whiff, but fleshy and stock-still… They are not going anywhere. A lot of truth and a little bit of smoke!
“When a man died, there has to be blame. You could blame the war. You could blame the idiots who made the war. You could blame people who were too lazy to read a newspaper, who were bored by the daily body counts, who switched channels at the mention of politics. You could blame whole nations. You could blame god. You could blame the munitions makers or Karl Marx or a trick of fate or an old man in Omaha who forgot to vote.”
I like the way the author glorifies nobody, expects nothing, and yet manages to say pretty much weighty everything in simple words. A nice read.
“I survived, but it’s not a happy ending. I was a coward. I went to the war.”
Though I wouldn’t add this to my personal favourites, I am glad I read this one, long time due.
War books I like (Many more to be included):
Joseph Heller – Catch 22
Sebastian Faulks – Birdsong
Pat Barker – The ghost road
Thomas Keneally – Schindler’s arc
Timothy Findley – Famous last words
Markus Zusak – The book thief
Leon Uris – Mila 18
Anna Politkovskaya – A dirty war
Edited by Sebastian Faulks, Jerg Hensgen – The vintage book of war stories
Max Hastings – Going to wars
Michael Shaara – The killer angels
Masuji Ibuse – Black rain
Thomas Keneally – Towards Asmara