Like most British I am, not wholly, but quite majorly ignorant about the Vietnam War. I know it was a travesty with countless atrocities committed by both sides. Conflicting ideologies combined with pig-headed stubbornness that led to the deaths of thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children. Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is a collection of stories told by O’Brien about him and his comrades experiences that took place, before, during and after the war. O’Brien states explicably before the book has truly begun that:
“This is a work of fiction. Except for a few details regarding the author’s own life, all the incidents, names and characters are imaginary.”
Now, let’s examine the facts:
Is Tim O’Brien a veteran of the Vietnam War?
Do the fictional stories told seem far too personal and real to be completely fictional?
Is O’Brien a talented writer?
Is it possible that O’Brien is deliberately misleading the reader with the statement, and continues to dance around the truth, mixing sensationalism with a veneer of literary brilliance to make the reader question the truth in the same way O’Brien must’ve and must still think about the War? (And breathe)
Well, bloody hell if I know. But that’s the way I’ve interpreted it.
The Things They Carried is a hard book. Stories of war are always hard to swallow; they can make you feel in different ways to other tales of emotional woe. TTTC makes you second guess those emotions. No matter how touched you may be by a tale, O’Brien will always bring you back down to reality, forcing you to re-evaluate what you feel and, if it is firstly, justified and secondly, true. The story that will undoubtedly stick with most of you is that of the water buffalo. You’ll know it when you come to it. I’ve never felt so… Embarrassed to be almost scolded by an author. I am, however, still waiting for Stephen King to tell me off for abusing the adverbial. We can but dream people!
The entirety of TTTC is an emotional rollercoaster, it is jovial, heartfelt, morbid, depressing, and uplifting. It will leave you pondering about what we, those who have never experience war, think and feel about what happens. Because at the end of it all, us civvies know the approximation of ‘bugger all’ what these men and women and children go through.
If this book gets under your skin, then I will also recommend ‘A Rumour of War’ by Philip Caputo another brilliant Vietnam War memoire. Anyway, The Things They Carried is a must read for anyone. If you’re like me and are ignorant of the Vietnam conflict and war in general, then you must read this book. Trust me, you won’t regret it.