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book cover I started reading The Things They Carried as a recommendation for writing style and it is, indeed, a very deep personal work. Tim O'Brien writes about the Vietnam war in most if not all of his work, but this novella is a collection of short stories all brought together under the mantle of a sort of a confession. It's a mosaic, each piece beautiful, but together creating the artistic vision of the true war.

I liked the subtlety, most of all. The characters are not overly complex, but they are portrayed in a very personal manner, with details that are important for the overall meaning of the book. I loved how O'Brien described soldiers going to war (instead of running away to Canada, as he almost did) because they were too embarrassed not to. Died in the war because they were afraid to die of shame. Too cowardly to run.

At just 150 pages, the book shows not how the training went, or how the shooting was, it presents everything from the viewpoint of the people there. How it takes over every feeling you have, how it changes you into this creature that is completely different from the man (or woman) who left. It's not about maneuvers or tactical prowess or strategies of survival. They are all meaningless. The important part is to keep a semblance of sanity.

The titled refers to the trinkets people carry to remind them of who they are. And they carry much more: hopes, wounds, fears, diseases, the ever growing arsenal of pointless weapons and ammunition and so on. A bit depressing, but a damn good read.


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