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A critical review of tim obriens the things they carried

In the National Book Critics Circle prepares to celebrate nearly forty years of the best work selected by the critics themselves, and also to launch the new John Leonard award for first book. So we're looking back at the winners and finalists, all archived on our websiteand we've asked our members and former honorees to pick a favorite. Soldiers love to tell stories. Some of them might even be true. In a combat zone, a person has a lot of time to think. They think about bullets, rocket-propelled grenades, explosive devices buried shallow alongside the road.

They think about buddies and enemies and girls back home. But mostly they think about boredom and the stretches of time, barren as deserts, they have on their hands. Because, unavoidably, they will be asked to tell stories. Would you go back? How does it feel to be home? How was the food? Even if that story is the safe womb of silence.

And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the 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.

'The Things They Carried,' 20 Years On

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 some 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, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.


The Things They Carried, is a brilliant patchwork quilt of lies, truths and grey narratives somewhere in between. I read it for the first time when I was in Iraq.

Bombs raining, bullets flying, men cursing. I never saw any of that first-hand.

I depended on the lie of fiction to tell me about the truth of war. If you believe it, be skeptical. This sometimes came into conflict with my duties in the Army as someone who was required to deliver indisputable facts to the news media on a daily basis.

The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien - Essay

I worked in a public affairs office spitting distance from Abu Grahib prison at the western edge of Baghdad. As part of my job, I was surrounded by stories. Exhausted men coming back from a hard day patrolling neighborhoods. Incident reports delivered in dry, all-caps military shorthand over our computer network. The overheard conversation coming from a neighboring bathroom stall. On the day after I finished reading The Things They Carried, a man stepped out of a crowd in downtown Baghdad, raised his AK and pulled the trigger.

Every time soldiers leave the protection and security of the FOB, they are clad in scalp-to-toenail protective gear: There is also a thin, fateful gap in the flak vest where the front and rear armored plates do not meet.

On this day, the AK bullet entered the body of a U. It shattered his rib cage, tunneled through his lungs and finally came to rest, spent and exhausted, against the rear armored plate. The soldier spurted blood. He fell to the ground.

I read this report while sitting at my desk, the blood oozing between the all-cap sentences, and even though I was stirred to sadness and anger, I immediately started forming it into a story. Vivid scenes, real and imagined. One last story before I go: I start for the exit. He is all smiles and politeness and sweaty sales hustle. He is looking significantly at his salesclerk, then back to me, smiling so hard I think his teeth will break.

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All about men looking for a cacciato. He hands back the book and without another word, I nod at him and leave quickly. That shopkeeper lied, fabricated a story on the spot, because it was the only path he found out of his embarrassment over not being able to sell me peacock feathers.

His work has also appeared in the New York Times and Salon. He regularly blogs about the literary life at The Quivering Pen Abrams retired in after a year career in the active-duty Army as a journalist. He was named the Department of Defense's Military Journalist of the Year in and received several other military commendations throughout his career.

The journal he kept during that year formed the blueprint for the novel which would later become known as Fobbit.