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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
11,275322398 (4.19)655
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)
Recently added bytravis.wills, Europa_Erupts, HRparadise, elam11, jcgotte, rena40, ginalouise52, private library, ljus, carlypancakes
Legacy LibrariesTim Spalding
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    chrisharpe: A similar novel, just as powerful - from the North Vietnamese perspective...
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    andyg227: An incredible journey of soldiers fighting and dying in the Vietnam War.
  12. 39
    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 655 mentions

English (320)  Spanish (2)  All languages (322)
Showing 1-5 of 320 (next | show all)
When I found out this book was about Vietnam, I wanted to return it to the library without even bothering to open it. I don't like war and I don't want to read about it. Yeah, I'm an ostrich.

But (and I'm sure you can tell what's coming here since you know I gave it five stars) I started on the first page and literally found myself in Vietnam, in the minds and hearts of these men. The writing ebbs, crashes, and reminds me of a symphony with its motifs that come back haunting, always haunting. I finished the book easily in one day and can't wait to read it again. It's a book about war, yes. Writing, yes. But like Tim O'Brien says in the work, “It wasn't a war story. It was a love story.” ( )
  gakgakg | May 28, 2020 |
Tim O'Brien says his "style" is to focus deeply on his subject matter. And from that, he makes the case for his stories being truthful, whether all is real, imaginary, or real imaginary. His problem in this set of stories, however, is the glass pane that seems to mediate between the narratives and the reader. Sometimes a glass pane is clear and allows for the sensation of verisimilitude. At other times, the pane is angled just enough to obscure, distort, and intervene. That angling most often comes when O'Brien enforces his style over his content.

Another problem, for me, is his lack of atmosphere--at least in Vietnam. His landscape is either barren or a continuous vista of mire, rain, heat, humidity, rice paddies, elephant grass, firebases, or dirty villages. That contrasts, no doubt intentionally, with his remembrances of the U.S. and a world of bright colors and innocence--but where nightmares constantly intrude. As for Vietnam and Southeast Asia, however, it is as if he was never there. The country has nothing to distinguish itself other than corpses and mists. His most lasting image from the collection is a filthy village latrine which has been covered by a flooding river and in which O'Brien's squad is entombed because they make it the spot of their overnight bivouac.

And last is the virtual dehumanization of Vietnam and the Vietnamese. For O'Brien it is a country almost solely occupied by American soldiers. Yes, a few Vietnamese appear, a couple of farmers, some village women warning them away from their latrine, a dead VC, the corpse of an old villager, and a young girl. Otherwise, nobody. And none of the Vietnamese have a name. They are incidental to their own country--and, of course, O'Brien's story.

Overall, while the stories at times are compelling in and of themselves, the attitude and tone is cliched. O'Brien travels down well worn paths of cynicism, mistrust, anger, and indifference. The result is fantasy and a purposeful sense of detachment. At the end, O'Brien is far from creating a work to rival those of Herr and Hasford. He is self-obsessed and capable only of seeing his Vietnamese surroundings through a contrast to his understood American experiences. ( )
  PaulCornelius | Apr 12, 2020 |
The flawless audiobook presentation, read by none other than Bryan Cranston (of Malcolm in the Middle fame) was riveting. This is good storytelling, and a lesson on how to use repetition. It sheds light on nuanced emotions amid the chaos of wartime.

I've always disliked war stories in general. They're just not my thing. I found The Naked and the Dead difficult. I don't understand the level of cruelty in these tales. They accomplish the depiction of human strength, endurance, weakness and moral outrage. But how is it possible to justify a bombing, a mine, or the massacres that have occurred in every era of history? I'm always thinking, why is our civilization doing this? I'm no historian. I don't know a lot about Vietnam. But I believe I can appreciate some of the contradictions, the hypocrisy and the tragedy. Maybe Hollywood has ruined my perception. It is safe to assume that those who had a personal connection with the time and events will get slightly more out of the literature it produced.

Luckily, Tim O'Brien's book really comes off as authentic. Vietnam was another troubling time in history, and the author has a lot to say about war and the damage it has done on the psyches of the Americans involved. The author's account at the end added even more food for thought.

This is an affecting, powerful, immersive book. A well-written chronicle, limited in scope, but all the more memorable for the idiosyncratic characters and clear, crystalline voice.

This book does its job. It captures attention, widens understanding, it engages the heart and mind. I doubt I will find a more effective war story anytime soon. ( )
  LSPopovich | Apr 8, 2020 |
Not particularly interesting war stories. The appended collection of essays were better - much better.

The author's completely justified disgust at the Mai Lai massacre, its multiple coverups and a total of three (3) days (yes "days") total jail-time served for all responsible was quickly forgotten as he returned to his pretty boring war stories.

Has an interesting - repeated and repeated - "this story isn't true" theme.

Minus one star for blatant war propaganda dressed up as the mildest criticism.

( )
  GirlMeetsTractor | Mar 22, 2020 |
This book had been on my to-read shelf since high school. I think I'm glad I waited so many years to read it.

You know when you read a book and it hurts? But you want to keep going? That's how this book was for me. The front cover of my copy has a NYT review calling it "a vital, important book". That's what I wanted to call it. Important. It was painful in an important way.

Someone at work asked me for a book recommendation on the fly, something new for him, whatever I was reading at the moment. I'm glad I recommended this one. ( )
  Midhiel | Mar 18, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 320 (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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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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(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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