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The Things They Carried (1990)

by Tim O'Brien

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
12,978365388 (4.18)679
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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    All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque (chrisharpe)
  2. 31
    The sorrow of war by Bao Ninh (ateolf, chrisharpe)
    chrisharpe: A similar novel, just as powerful - from the North Vietnamese perspective...
  3. 10
    Beaufort by Ron Leshem (SqueakyChu)
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    Chickenhawk by Robert Mason (chrisharpe)
  5. 00
    What It Is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes (TooBusyReading)
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    When Heaven and Earth Changed Places: A Vietnamese Woman's Journey from War to Peace by Le Ly Hayslip (crislee123)
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    Bloods: Black Veterans of the Vietnam War: An Oral History by Wallace Terry (crislee123)
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    The Five O'Clock Follies: What's a Woman Doing Here, Anyway? by Theasa Tuohy (Preatarius)
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    Out of Mesopotamia by Salar Abdoh (susanbooks)
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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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    The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer (ateolf)
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    A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo (mcenroeucsb)
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    Loon by Jack McLean (SqueakyChu)
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    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 679 mentions

English (361)  Spanish (2)  French (1)  All languages (364)
Showing 1-5 of 361 (next | show all)
I had a friend who went to war. Part of him did not come home. His shoulder and much of his upper body was metal plate, but that is not the part I am talking about. The part that was left there was a piece of his soul, an innocence and lightness that could never be recaptured. He talked about the war when he was in his cups, which he was too often. His best buddy in the war was killed in front of his eyes, and Sam was convinced (be it true or not) that the bullet he took was meant for Sam. He felt his friend had saved his life and that he was not worthy of that sacrifice. Knowing him made reading this book a harder experience for me, it made the stories more real, it reminded me how many Sams there were out there in the jungles of Vietnam.

This is, of course, a book about war, and as such, not surprisingly, a book about loss. It is also a book about death, even the deaths of those who live, for people die in stages sometimes, they die in bits and pieces that they bury and exhume and rebury.

I cannot imagine anyone reads this book without taking it personally. Certainly the men who fought this war must find something I can never touch inside its pages. What I found myself seeing were Sam’s eyes, the way they sparkled when he was free of war for a moment and the way they clouded and glazed when he tried to tell anyone about what he was feeling. I would sometimes catch him in a quiet moment at his desk, and I knew without a word that he was there. From the first page, I was walking with Sam, not with Tim, but then I realized Sam and Tim and Kiowa and Curt Lemon, are all the same person for one short moment in time.

I know why I have had this on my TBR for so long and procrastinated about opening it to read. No one really wants to go back to that war for even a second. I understand as little now about why were there as I did then, and history usually gives a person more perspective, not less. I think about all the potential we lost, not only in the person of those who died, but in those who came back so changed and could find no way to move forward. Tim O’Brien is one of the lucky ones. He found a voice through his writing and purged some of his ghosts in that way. Some men just carried them to the grave, unpurged...and that must be the worst weight they were asked to carry. ( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
The book is a collection of short stories of American soldiers in the Vietnam War. It has faced several challenges for vulgar language, sexual content and violence. The George County School District in Mississippi banned it in 2007 for profanity.
  LMariaHG | Jul 17, 2022 |
The first chapter was brilliant but the rest of the book did not carry on in the same vein. Some of the stories were overly long. Of the rest, I like 'Speaking of Courage'. What a way to spend your day - there is nothing to do except drive round and round the neighourhood lake. You so much want to tell your father how brave you were but you don't have a chance. This chapter just pours with quiet misery. 'On a Rainy River' was also memorable. Sometimes you do something not because of conviction but because you are too scared not to do it. The 'Tim' in the book didn't dare to go AWOL for fear of losing the familiarity and concerns about what people would think of him. He went to war because he is a coward. What an irony. ( )
  siok | Jul 17, 2022 |
I'll say up front that I did not finish this book. I quit at the telling of the baby water buffalo. Feel free to hate on me in the comments, but if you point toward the stars in the "my rating" section, only one star says "didn't like it" and that is the only rating suitable for a book I COULDN'T finish. I hardly think, however, my little negative will badly affect this book overall, just as my words won't.

I would never say this book is bad or evil or shouldn't be read. I felt, perhaps naively, that I was fairly desensitized to this, but it just left me feeling sick. I can see how this book can be great things to many people, but those people should be willing to understand that it can be harmful to some, apparently me.

Some will say I miss the point - and that may be, though I doubt it. I can understand appreciating this book if you want to put yourself there and feel that pain. I just don't understand why you would. It's painful and be prepared and I don't mean think you are prepared, like me, and then get slaughtered. On a bell curve of human behavior where the far right side represents utopia and perfection that doesn't exist, this lands solidly and extremely close to the very left edge. Point taken and understood. This is real and if you find a need to live within the reality, by all means partake. ( )
  jdiggity83 | Jun 23, 2022 |
Things they carried with them, and more importantly things they carried inside of them.

Fabulous book, favorite themes were water buffalo, driving in the 7 mile circle and I guess the field by the river.
Author is just spellbinding, and I am not easily impressed. ( )
  delta351 | May 24, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 361 (next | show all)
"As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drag on, O’Brien’s powerful depictions are as real today as ever."
 

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tim O'Brienprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cranston, BryanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Prate, Jean-YvesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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
Dedication
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.
Quotations
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.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
This is a collection of short stories, one of which is titled The Things They Carried. Do not combine this collection with that individual story.
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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.

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