The Things They Carried (book review)

The Things They CarriedThe Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Book Type: Audible
Length: 7h 47m

A hard book to read, but only because of how impactful it was to me. Now more than a month later I still think about it a lot.

This book is a bit harder to give a review. I have a lot of personal baggage wrapped up in the subject as my father had similar experiences in the war (albeit on a PBR on the Mekong). However I will try and give this its proper due.

I listened to the audio book with Bryan Cranston reading. He is as good at it as you would expect. No “Walter White” images conjured up, he made it sound like Tim O’Brien (the author) himself was speaking. Can’t recommend Mr. Cranston enough.

I don’t doubt for a second the veracity of any of the stories. They have the same “start in the middle” feel that my father and the rest of his Vietnam vet friends had in their stories. Also the tendency to retell parts of one story as it rolls into another, with no visible start/end to it. I suppose for them there was no start or end, so how could the stories have a definitive start or ending.

The quiet time, shattered by moments of terror reaches out from the pages. Has that same unreal, almost dream like quality that the stories I have heard in real life. It is incredibly engrossing, and at the same time makes you cringe at what is coming.

A lot of the retelling of his time over there are almost unbelievable stories. Not in a “it couldn’t happen” type way, but in that way that is so banal and small, with such big impact. The story about the water buffalo, about the soldier who used to get high all the time, the soldier’s girlfriend who came over and was lost to the jungle, all of them conjure images of young men, stuck in hell on earth in a foreign jungle. I don’t doubt for a second that each incident happened, at least from the perspective of Tim O’Brien.

Like I said, I don’t think I can give a totally unbiased point of view. I do think it is an incredibly good book that will leave you thinking about it. I can’t recommend it more.

One other thing, I listened to the audiobook and the last hour of the audiobook had an interview with Tim O’Brien about when he went back to Vietnam 20+ years later with his daughter. I hope that is in the print edition, or that you can maybe find it on youtube because that definitely was impactful as well.

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