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The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

The Things They Carried (1990)

by Tim O'Brien

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
8,228223381 (4.2)488
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    Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes (andyg227, chrisharpe)
    andyg227: An incredible journey of soldiers fighting and dying in the Vietnam War.
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  11. 28
    The Iliad by Homer (jrgoetziii)
    jrgoetziii: Because The Iliad is a classic war story and The Things They Carried is not, but took a number of passages almost directly from The Iliad (one of these is the catalog in the first book, but there are many others, too). The Iliad covers significantly more range and depth, and its themes are timeless.… (more)

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» See also 488 mentions

English (221)  Spanish (2)  All languages (223)
Showing 1-5 of 221 (next | show all)
Horrible to contemplate a brilliant young man headed to Harvard Graduate School, shipped off to the jungles of Vietnam--but to say this is to demean the wasted lives of thousands of less talented young men who are made into cannon fodder in meaningless, doomed foreign conflicts. O'Brien memorializes some of these young men, for "casualties" are impersonal but individual dead soldiers are real. The only one I can't feel anything for is Rat, because of the baby buffalo episode. My favorite is Kiowa. The greatest horror--apart from the sheer carnage--is the narrowed distance between Tim and Azar by the end, and the thought of what war makes men into, and the question of whether it can be ever completely unmade.

The writing is amazing, not least because of the nearly impossible subject matter. If not for the author's propensity to tell the same stories over and over with the same words--compelling at the beginning, annoying by the end--this mind-searing mortar shell of Vietnam metafiction would be Pulitzer material. ( )
  JMlibrarian | Feb 27, 2015 |
Reddit asked: "What books of today will be classics of future?"
Reddit answered: "The Things They Carried"
Librarything listened. Listened during jetlag. Listened in the dark of night.

Having some good luck with books these days...No, not just my mood. This is actually a really cool book.

OBrian takes a war story and turns it grisly, tells the ugly side of the story in a way as to negate any virtues or valor in heroism. It's a compilation of engrossing tales in an interesting narrative style, the latter probably my favorite aspect of the book. Not sure what the style is called, but it is definitely different/innovative. Think of how Slaughterhouse Five spun things up. Now spin it for nonfiction and calm it down.

Other reviews will reveal more about the story. The telling is what I'll point you to. ( )
  mortensengarth | Jan 28, 2015 |
Tim O’Brien may well be this generation’s Michael Herr (of Dispatches fame). But then, they covered the same war — one as a warrior; the other as a reporter-at-large. Maybe one was just a few years behind the other — or saw the war through a different set of lenses.

A shame, perhaps. I suspect that if the two of them had not been at each other’s ambitious throats, they might’ve been good friends. At the very least, they would’ve earned each other’s respect.

Until I read The Things They Carried, I thought no one could write a better book about the Vietnam War than Dispatches — and so, why bother. However, Mr. O’Brien has his own take on the same war, and that take holds more than a mere candle to Michael Herr’s.

Read the two books side by side and decide for yourself. You won’t, in either case, be disappointed.

Brooklyn, NY, USA ( )
  RussellBittner | Dec 12, 2014 |
I really didn't expect to like it, knowing it was fiction from the beginning was distracting, but he addresses it beautifully and makes clear through the lies he admits he's telling that you can't tell a war story. Surprisingly touching. ( )
  rockinghorsedreams | Nov 13, 2014 |
I read this book over the summer and enjoyed it very much, so much so that I read it in three days. What I appreciate so much about this book is the narrative. I love the way the stories are told and how the book analyzes each man in turn. The only thing I didn't like was that it did not make clear what really happened and what did not. This is one of the most powerful anti-war novels. It shows how bloody and awful the Vietnam War was. And it shows that romantic notions about war are false. This is the Vietnam War you won't learn about in a text book. Reading this, you'll feel like you were actually there, and that is one of the greatest things an author can do. Great writing! ( )
1 vote jburkett16 | Nov 2, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 221 (next | show all)
"Many people think this is the best work of fiction ever written about Vietnam. Some even think it is the best work of fiction ever written about war. Both are right, and they were right 20 years ago when this book came out for the first time."
"As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drag on, O’Brien’s powerful depictions are as real today as ever."
"...he not only crystallizes the Vietnam experience for us, he exposes the nature of all war stories."

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tim O'Brienprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cranston, BryanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This book is essentially different from any other that has been published concerning the 'late war' or any of its incidents. Those who have had any such experience as the author will see its truthfulness at once, and to all other readers it is commended as a statement of actual things by one who experienced them to the fullest.
-- John Ransom's Andersonville Diary
This book is lovingly dedicated to the men of Alpha Company, and in particular to Jimmy Cross, Norman Bowker, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Henry Dobbins, and Kiowa.
First words
First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey. They werre not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack.
It was my view then, and still is, that you don't make war without knowing why.

I was a coward. I went to the war.
Garden of Evil. Over here, man, every sin's real fresh and original.
"Well, right now," she said, "I'm not dead. But when I am, it's like . . . I don't know, I guess it's like being inside a book that nobody's reading."
I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth. Here is the happening-truth. I was once a soldier. There were many bodies, real bodies with real faces, but I was young then and I was afraid to look. And now, twenty years later, I'm left with faceless responsibility and faceless grief.

Here is the story-truth. He was a slim, dead, almost dainty young man of about twenty. He lay in the center of a red clay trail near the village of My Khe. His jaw was in his throat. His one eye was shut, the other eye was a star-shaped hole. I killed him.

What stories can do, I guess, is make things present.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0767902890, Paperback)

"They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing--these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice.... Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to."

A finalist for both the 1990 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Things They Carried marks a subtle but definitive line of demarcation between Tim O'Brien's earlier works about Vietnam, the memoir If I Die in a Combat Zone and the fictional Going After Cacciato, and this sly, almost hallucinatory book that is neither memoir nor novel nor collection of short stories but rather an artful combination of all three. Vietnam is still O'Brien's theme, but in this book he seems less interested in the war itself than in the myriad different perspectives from which he depicts it. Whereas Going After Cacciato played with reality, The Things They Carried plays with truth. The narrator of most of these stories is "Tim"; yet O'Brien freely admits that many of the events he chronicles in this collection never really happened. He never killed a man as "Tim" does in "The Man I Killed," and unlike Tim in "Ambush," he has no daughter named Kathleen. But just because a thing never happened doesn't make it any less true. In "On the Rainy River," the character Tim O'Brien responds to his draft notice by driving north, to the Canadian border where he spends six days in a deserted lodge in the company of an old man named Elroy while he wrestles with the choice between dodging the draft or going to war. The real Tim O'Brien never drove north, never found himself in a fishing boat 20 yards off the Canadian shore with a decision to make. The real Tim O'Brien quietly boarded the bus to Sioux Falls and was inducted into the United States Army. But the truth of "On the Rainy River" lies not in facts but in the genuineness of the experience it depicts: both Tims went to a war they didn't believe in; both considered themselves cowards for doing so. Every story in The Things They Carried speaks another truth that Tim O'Brien learned in Vietnam; it is this blurred line between truth and reality, fact and fiction, that makes his book unforgettable. --Alix Wilber

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:54:18 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

This depicts the men of Alpha Company. They battle the enemy (or maybe more the idea of the enemy), and occasionally each other. In their relationships we see their isolation and loneliness, their rage and fear. They miss their families, their girlfriends and buddies; they miss the lives they left back home. Yet they find sympathy and kindness for strangers (the old man who leads them unscathed through the mine field, the girl who grieves while she dances), and love for each other, because in Vietnam they are the only family they have… (more)

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