The Things They Carried
A finalist for both the 1990 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Things They Carried marks a subtle but definitive line of demarcation between Tim O’Brien’s earlier works about Vietnam, the memoir If I Die in a Combat Zone and the fictional Going After Cacciato, and this sly, almost hallucinatory book that is neither memoir nor novel nor collection of short stories but rather an artful combination of all three. Vietnam is still O’Brien’s theme, but in this book he seems less interested in the war itself than in the myriad different perspectives from which he depicts it. Whereas Going After Cacciato played with reality, The Things They Carried plays with truth. The narrator of most of these stories is "Tim"; yet O’Brien freely admits that many of the events he chronicles in this collection never really happened. He never killed a man as "Tim" does in "The Man I Killed," and unlike Tim in "Ambush," he has no daughter named Kathleen. But just because a thing never happened doesn’t make it any less true. In "On the Rainy River," the character Tim O’Brien responds to his draft notice by driving north, to the Canadian border where he spends six days in a deserted lodge in the company of an old man named Elroy while he wrestles with the choice between dodging the draft or going to war. The real Tim O’Brien never drove north, never found himself in a fishing boat 20 yards off the Canadian shore with a decision to make. The real Tim O’Brien quietly boarded the bus to Sioux Falls and was inducted into the United States Army. But the truth of "On the Rainy River" lies not in facts but in the genuineness of the experience it depicts: both Tims went to a war they didn’t believe in; both considered themselves cowards for doing so. Every story in The Things They Carried speaks another truth that Tim O’Brien learned in Vietnam; it is this blurred line between truth and reality, fact and fiction, that makes his book unforgettable (Amazon.com)
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Review of The Things They Carried
It is an account of a Vietnam soldier who basically carries just the essentials in his backpack as he is doing his tour of duty in Vietnam. But it is so much more. It is a commentary on life and the baggage that we carry with us (prejudices, hang-ups, fears, hurts, etc.) that affect how we deal with new situations.
I have read a lot of soldiers' accounts of their experiences in Vietnam, but I thought this was the most English-class worthy book with good writing and deeper meaning to the events being described.
It would help me explain what the US perspective was for most of our soldiers as they experienced Vietnam and the war at an early age. I think high school students would be able to get insight into why some soldiers acted as they did when they got to Vietnam (many valiant but dishonorable acts of our soldiers).
It helped me refresh my memory of the significant areas of battle and the general climate of the region. I will be looking for ghosts of the past as I see a more vibrant country in front of my eyes.
It is a more poetic book than most about the war. It is a good companion book to When Heaven and Earth Changed Places. The Things They Carried gives the US soldiers' perspective, and When Heaven and Earth Changed Places gives the vietnamese perspective.