Shades Of Words


The Things They Carried

The Things They CarriedThe Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It can’t be an easy thing to write personal war stories – especially painful, gut-wrenching, embarrassing, shameful ones. But that’s what Tim O’Brien does in this semi-autobiographical collection of snippets from Vietnam War. He digs into his war wounds and slices them open and leaves them naked in front of us – wounds festering with blood, pus and dirt.
The Things they Carried is an astounding book that leaves no doubt in your mind on the true nature of war – there is no glory and it’s horror has endless depths.
Presented as a collection of incidents in no specific chronology, O’Brien brings to life the men of his unit, their quirks, the tragedies of their meaningless deaths and the burdens they carried, first into the war and then away from it.
It’s hard to put in words how O’Brien presents this. He talks about running away from the war that he did not want to join, he talks about the shame, both of joining the war and of wanting to run away from it. He talks about the fear that each soldier carried on his back along with several pounds of ammunition on their long endless marches through the swamplands of Vietnam. He talks about the dying – meaningless, tragic and final, almost comical. Curt Lemon blowing up accidentally on a minefield and his dead remains being peeled of a tree, Ted Lavendar shot in the head as he finishes pissing, Kiowa sinking in a shit field. He talks about how Rat Kiley’s pretty in pink girlfriend learns how to shoot, goes in ambushes, stars wearing human tongues as a necklace and becomes one with the war, lost forever – like the innocence of each man whom O’brien has known. He talks about a man who survived the war that followed him home, and that later killed him with a noose around his neck.
Each page is filled with such absolute truth whose knowledge can come only through what O’Brien endured. As you read every line, you want to turn to the next person to you see and make them read it too so that they can understand.
For instance, here is what O’Brien says about a war story
‘… 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 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, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil…..’
O’Brien’s writing is sharp with a haunting quality. You don’t know how each paragraph will end. His stories interconnect erratically over the pages and as the picture becomes clearer, the darkness gets murkier. O’Brien writes these stories to keep his memories alive – but there is no catharsis for the trauma of Nam. It will always be present no matter how many stories are told.

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The Casual Vacancy : Small town soap

The Casual VacancyThe Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

J.K. Rowling’s foray into adult fiction is surprisingly good albeit a little depressing. I have enjoyed the Harry Potter series for its concept and plot and never from a literary standpoint. This novel on the other hand is stronger on the language and structure whereas the plot is tepid.

The narrative starts with a Casual Vacancy-created by the death of a council member of a Pagford, small fictional town in England. We are quickly introduced to the central cast of characters as they react to this news. Inner motives, emotions and political ambitions are revealed. The burning issue that divides the town of Pagford is the presence of a small poverty ridden settlement of Fields which falls under Pagford county due to an accidental sale of land 60 years ago. The self-labelled genteel folks of Pagford have been keen ever since to hand off Fields to the neighbouring town along with its problems. As the dead man was the only crusader for the case FOR keeping Fields,the vacancy is quite coveted. Of course, nothing is what it looks like and everyone appears to be hiding a dirty little secret which are revealed by a voice beyond the grave – or so it would seem. The social situation is explained through the stories of different characters on either side of the Fields fence, in a manner of speaking. There is enough drama in the snoozing lives of this town to keep the reader going on with a strong temptation to skip half a dozen pages or so, every now and then.

The Casual Vacancy is a not so subtle commentary on the increasing disparity between the haves and have-nots, the confusion on effectiveness of government programs and deep prejudices that run in what has been an essentially a feudal society. However, there are times when it feels that J.K Rowling is trying too hard to make a point. All together they seem to work, but individually none of the characters are engaging. And there are so many of them. In a span of of the first fifty pages we are introduced to a dozen people that spot the social fabric of Pagford, and not one of them seem to be happy or healthy. It’s as if everyone in and around this little town is festering with frustrations and lost ambitions. Class clashes, domestic and sexual abuse, drug issue and racism abounds. Sometimes it appears to be too much and you keep flipping through hoping to catch the silver lining of the cloud. Is 21st century society in such a state of decline?

The only other note that I have that maybe this book could have been a hundred pages shorter. In fact, there are several character arcs that we could have done away entirely without impacting the story line !

It’s not one of the better novels that I have read, but it was not a waste of time. If you happen to find it in your reach, read it.

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