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The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried

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The Things They Carried

valoraciones:
4.5/5 (273 valoraciones)
Longitud:
244 página
4 horas
Editorial:
Publicado:
Sep 1, 2003
ISBN:
9780547420295
Formato:
Libro

Descripción

Written by Scribd Editors

Tim O'Brien's semi-autobiographical novel-in-stories is a classic of war fiction. Spanning idyllic American childhoods, the war-torn jungles of Vietnam, and the post-Vietnam veteran experience, The Things They Carried is a portrait of a generation in turmoil, and the ways they found to cope.

A groundbreaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive powers of storytelling, The Things They Carried is also a master class in dark humor. With a broad cast of characters relating experiences at times harrowing, uplifting, hilarious, and heartrending, the diversity of stories coalesces into one cohesive and deeply affecting narrative. An ambitious feat, it's no wonder that The Things They Carried continues to be taught in schools across the country.
Editorial:
Publicado:
Sep 1, 2003
ISBN:
9780547420295
Formato:
Libro

Sobre el autor

Tim O’Brien received the 1979 National Book Award for Going After Cacciato. Among his other books are The Things They Carried, Pulitzer finalist and a New York Times Book of the Century and In the Lake of the Woods, winner of the James Fenimore Cooper Prize. He was awarded the Pritzker Literature Award for lifetime achievement in military writing in 2013.

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The Things They Carried - Tim O'Brien

HMH

First Mariner Books edition 2009

Copyright © 1990 by Tim O’Brien

All rights reserved.

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to trade.permissions@hmhco.com or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New left, New York 10016.

hmhco.com

First published in 1990 by Houghton Mifflin

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available.

ISBN 978-0-618-70641-9

Reading Group Guide copyright © 2009 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Discussion questions written by Ally Peltier and Hannah Harlow

eISBN 978-0-547-42029-5

v3.1118

Of these stories, five first appeared in Esquire: The Things They Carried, How to Tell a True War Story, Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong, The Ghost Soldiers, and The Lives of the Dead. Speaking of Courage was first published in The Massachusetts Review, then later, in a revised version, in Granta. In the Field was first published in Gentleman’s Quarterly. Style, Spin, and The Man I Killed were first published, in different form, in The Quarterly. The Things They Carried appeared in The Best American Short Stories 1987. Speaking of Courage and The Ghost Soldiers appeared in Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards (1978 and 1982). On the Rainy River first appeared in Playboy. The author wishes to thank the editors of those publications and to express gratitude for support received from the National Endowment for the Arts.

This book is lovingly dedicated to the men of

Alpha Company, and in particular to Jimmy Cross,

Norman Bowker, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders,

Henry Dobbins, and Kiowa.

Acknowledgments

My thanks to Erik Hansen, Rust Hills,

Camille Hykes, Seymour Lawrence, Andy McKillop,

Ivan Nabokov, Les Ramirez, and, above all,

to Ann O’Brien.

This book is essentially different from any other that has been published concerning the late war or any of its incidents. Those who have had any such experience as the author will see its truthfulness at once, and to all other readers it is commended as a statement of actual things by one who experienced them to the fullest.

—John Ransom’s Andersonville Diary

The Things They Carried

First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey. They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack. In the late afternoon, after a day’s march, he would dig his foxhole, wash his hands under a canteen, unwrap the letters, hold them with the tips of his fingers, and spend the last hour of light pretending. He would imagine romantic camping trips into the White Mountains in New Hampshire. He would sometimes taste the envelope flaps, knowing her tongue had been there. More than anything, he wanted Martha to love him as he loved her, but the letters were mostly chatty, elusive on the matter of love. She was a virgin, he was almost sure. She was an English major at Mount Sebastian, and she wrote beautifully about her professors and roommates and midterm exams, about her respect for Chaucer and her great affection for Virginia Woolf. She often quoted lines of poetry; she never mentioned the war, except to say, Jimmy, take care of yourself. The letters weighed 4 ounces. They were signed Love, Martha, but Lieutenant Cross understood that Love was only a way of signing and did not mean what he sometimes pretended it meant. At dusk, he would carefully return the letters to his rucksack. Slowly, a bit distracted, he would get up and move among his men, checking the perimeter, then at full dark he would return to his hole and watch the night and wonder if Martha was a virgin.

The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near-necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military Payment Certificates, C rations, and two or three canteens of water. Together, these items weighed between 12 and 18 pounds, depending upon a man’s habits or rate of metabolism. Henry Dobbins, who was a big man, carried extra rations; he was especially fond of canned peaches in heavy syrup over pound cake. Dave Jensen, who practiced field hygiene, carried a toothbrush, dental floss, and several hotel-sized bars of soap he’d stolen on R&R in Sydney, Australia. Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried tranquilizers until he was shot in the head outside the village of Than Khe in mid-April. By necessity, and because it was SOP, they all carried steel helmets that weighed 5 pounds including the liner and camouflage cover. They carried the standard fatigue jackets and trousers. Very few carried underwear. On their feet they carried jungle boots—2.1 pounds—and Dave Jensen carried three pairs of socks and a can of Dr. Scholl’s foot powder as a precaution against trench foot. Until he was shot, Ted Lavender carried 6 or 7 ounces of premium dope, which for him was a necessity. Mitchell Sanders, the RTO, carried condoms. Norman Bowker carried a diary. Rat Kiley carried comic books. Kiowa, a devout Baptist, carried an illustrated New Testament that had been presented to him by his father, who taught Sunday school in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. As a hedge against bad times, however, Kiowa also carried his grandmother’s distrust of the white man, his grandfather’s old hunting hatchet. Necessity dictated. Because the land was mined and booby-trapped, it was SOP for each man to carry a steel-centered, nylon-covered flak jacket, which weighed 6.7 pounds, but which on hot days seemed much heavier. Because you could die so quickly, each man carried at least one large compress bandage, usually in the helmet band for easy access. Because the nights were cold, and because the monsoons were wet, each carried a green plastic poncho that could be used as a raincoat or groundsheet or makeshift tent. With its quilted liner, the poncho weighed almost 2 pounds, but it was worth every ounce. In April, for instance, when Ted Lavender was shot, they used his poncho to wrap him up, then to carry him across the paddy, then to lift him into the chopper that took him away.

They were called legs or grunts.

To carry something was to hump it, as when Lieutenant Jimmy Cross humped his love for Martha up the hills and through the swamps. In its intransitive form, to hump meant to walk, or to march, but it implied burdens far beyond the intransitive.

Almost everyone humped photographs. In his wallet, Lieutenant Cross carried two photographs of Martha. The first was a Kodacolor snapshot signed Love, though he knew better. She stood against a brick wall. Her eyes were gray and neutral, her lips slightly open as she stared straight-on at the camera. At night, sometimes, Lieutenant Cross wondered who had taken the picture, because he knew she had boyfriends, because he loved her so much, and because he could see the shadow of the picture-taker spreading out against the brick wall. The second photograph had been clipped from the 1968 Mount Sebastian yearbook. It was an action shot—women’s volleyball—and Martha was bent horizontal to the floor, reaching, the palms of her hands in sharp focus, the tongue taut, the expression frank and competitive. There was no visible sweat. She wore white gym shorts. Her legs, he thought, were almost certainly the legs of a virgin, dry and without hair, the left knee cocked and carrying her entire weight, which was just over 117 pounds. Lieutenant Cross remembered touching that left knee. A dark theater, he remembered, and the movie was Bonnie and Clyde, and Martha wore a tweed skirt, and during the final scene, when he touched her knee, she turned and looked at him in a sad, sober way that made him pull his hand back, but he would always remember the feel of the tweed skirt and the knee beneath it and the sound of the gunfire that killed Bonnie and Clyde, how embarrassing it was, how slow and oppressive. He remembered kissing her good night at the dorm door. Right then, he thought, he should’ve done something brave. He should’ve carried her up the stairs to her room and tied her to the bed and touched that left knee all night long. He should’ve risked it. Whenever he looked at the photographs, he thought of new things he should’ve done.

What they carried was partly a function of rank, partly of field specialty.

As a first lieutenant and platoon leader, Jimmy Cross carried a compass, maps, code books, binoculars, and a .45-caliber pistol that weighed 2.9 pounds fully loaded. He carried a strobe light and the responsibility for the lives of his men.

As an RTO, Mitchell Sanders carried the PRC-25 radio, a killer, 26 pounds with its battery.

As a medic, Rat Kiley carried a canvas satchel filled with morphine and plasma and malaria tablets and surgical tape and comic books and all the things a medic must carry, including M&M’s for especially bad wounds, for a total weight of nearly 18 pounds.

As a big man, therefore a machine gunner, Henry Dobbins carried the M-60, which weighed 23 pounds unloaded, but which was almost always loaded. In addition, Dobbins carried between 10 and 15 pounds of ammunition draped in belts across his chest and shoulders.

As PFCs or Spec 4 s, most of them were common grunts and carried the standard M-16 gas-operated assault rifle. The weapon weighed 7.5 pounds unloaded, 8.2 pounds with its full 20-round magazine. Depending on numerous factors, such as topography and psychology, the riflemen carried anywhere from 12 to 20 magazines, usually in cloth bandoliers, adding on another 8.4 pounds at minimum, 14 pounds at maximum. When it was available, they also carried M-16 maintenance gear—rods and steel brushes and swabs and tubes of LSA oil—all of which weighed about a pound. Among the grunts, some carried the M-79 grenade launcher, 5.9 pounds unloaded, a reasonably light weapon except for the ammunition, which was heavy. A single round weighed 10 ounces. The typical load was 25 rounds. But Ted Lavender, who was scared, carried 34 rounds when he was shot and killed outside Than Khe, and he went down under an exceptional burden, more than 20 pounds of ammunition, plus the flak jacket and helmet and rations and water and toilet paper and tranquilizers and all the rest, plus the unweighed fear. He was dead weight. There was no twitching or flopping. Kiowa, who saw it happen, said it was like watching a rock fall, or a big sandbag or something—just boom, then down—not like the movies where the dead guy rolls around and does fancy spins and goes ass over teakettle—not like that, Kiowa said, the poor bastard just flat-fuck fell. Boom. Down. Nothing else. It was a bright morning in mid-April. Lieutenant Cross felt the pain. He blamed himself. They stripped off Lavender’s canteens and ammo, all the heavy things, and Rat Kiley said the obvious, the guy’s dead, and Mitchell Sanders used his radio to report one U.S. KIA and to request a chopper. Then they wrapped Lavender in his poncho. They carried him out to a dry paddy, established security, and sat smoking the dead man’s dope until the chopper came. Lieutenant Cross kept to himself. He pictured Martha’s smooth young face, thinking he loved her more than anything, more than his men, and now Ted Lavender was dead because he loved her so much and could not stop thinking about her. When the dustoff arrived, they carried Lavender aboard. Afterward they burned Than Khe. They marched until dusk, then dug their holes, and that night Kiowa kept explaining how you had to be there, how fast it was, how the poor guy just dropped like so much concrete. Boom-down, he said. Like cement.

In addition to the three standard weapons—the M-60, M-16, and M-79—they carried whatever presented itself, or whatever seemed appropriate as a means of killing or staying alive. They carried catch-as-catch-can. At various times, in various situations, they carried M-14s and CAR-15s and Swedish Ks and grease guns and captured AK-47s and Chi-Coms and RPGs and Simonov carbines and black market Uzis and .38-caliber Smith & Wesson handguns and 66 mm LAWs and shotguns and silencers and blackjacks and bayonets and C-4 plastic explosives. Lee Strunk carried a slingshot; a weapon of last resort, he called it. Mitchell Sanders carried brass knuckles. Kiowa carried his grandfather’s feathered hatchet. Every third or fourth man carried a Claymore antipersonnel mine—3.5 pounds with its firing device. They all carried fragmentation grenades—14 ounces each. They all carried at least one M-18 colored smoke grenade—24 ounces. Some carried CS or tear gas grenades. Some carried white phosphorus grenades. They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.

In the first week of April, before Lavender died, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross received a good-luck charm from Martha. It was a simple pebble, an ounce at most. Smooth to the touch, it was a milky white color with flecks of orange and violet, oval-shaped, like a miniature egg. In the accompanying letter, Martha wrote that she had found the pebble on the Jersey shoreline, precisely where the land touched water at high tide, where things came together but also separated. It was this separate-but-together quality, she wrote, that had inspired her to pick up the pebble and to carry it in her breast pocket for several days, where it seemed weightless, and then to send it through the mail, by air, as a token of her truest feelings for him. Lieutenant Cross found this romantic. But he wondered what her truest feelings were, exactly, and what she meant by separate-but-together. He wondered how the tides and waves had come into play on that afternoon along the Jersey shoreline when Martha saw the pebble and bent down to rescue it from geology. He imagined bare feet. Martha was a poet, with the poet’s sensibilities, and her feet would be brown and bare, the toenails unpainted, the eyes chilly and somber like the ocean in March, and though it was painful, he wondered who had been with her that afternoon. He imagined a pair of shadows moving along the strip of sand where things came together but also separated. It was phantom jealousy, he knew, but he couldn’t help himself. He loved her so much. On the march, through the hot days of early April, he carried the pebble in his mouth, turning it with his tongue, tasting sea salt and moisture. His mind wandered. He had difficulty keeping his attention on the war. On occasion he would yell at his men to spread out the column, to keep their eyes open, but then he would slip away into daydreams, just pretending, walking barefoot along the Jersey shore, with Martha, carrying nothing. He would feel himself rising. Sun and waves and gentle winds, all love and lightness.

What they carried varied by mission.

When a mission took them to the mountains, they carried mosquito netting, machetes, canvas tarps, and extra bug juice.

If a mission seemed especially hazardous, or if it involved a place they knew to be bad, they carried everything they could. In certain heavily mined AOs, where the land was dense with Toe Poppers and Bouncing Betties, they took turns humping a 28-pound mine detector. With its headphones and big sensing plate, the equipment was a stress on the lower back and shoulders, awkward to handle, often useless because of the shrapnel in the earth, but they carried it anyway, partly for safety, partly for the illusion of safety.

On ambush, or other night missions, they carried peculiar little odds and ends. Kiowa always took along his New Testament and a pair of moccasins for silence. Dave Jensen carried night-sight vitamins high in carotene. Lee Strunk carried his slingshot; ammo, he claimed, would never be a problem. Rat Kiley carried brandy and M&M’s candy. Until he was shot, Ted Lavender carried the starlight scope, which weighed 6.3 pounds with its aluminum carrying case. Henry Dobbins carried his girlfriend’s pantyhose wrapped around his neck as a comforter. They all carried ghosts. When dark came, they would move out single file across the meadows and paddies to their ambush coordinates, where they would quietly set up the Claymores and lie down and spend the night waiting.

Other missions were more complicated and required special equipment. In mid-April, it was their mission to search out and destroy the elaborate tunnel complexes in the Than Khe area south of Chu Lai. To blow the tunnels, they carried one-pound blocks of pentrite high explosives, four blocks to a man, 68 pounds in all. They carried wiring, detonators, and battery-powered clackers. Dave Jensen carried earplugs. Most often, before blowing the tunnels, they were ordered by higher command to search them, which was considered bad news, but by and large they just shrugged and carried out orders. Because he was a big man, Henry Dobbins was excused from tunnel duty. The others would draw numbers. Before Lavender died there were 17 men in the platoon, and whoever drew the number 17 would strip off his gear and crawl in headfirst with a flashlight and Lieutenant Cross’s .45-caliber pistol. The rest of them would fan out as security. They would sit down or kneel, not facing the hole, listening to the ground beneath them, imagining cobwebs and ghosts, whatever was down there—the tunnel walls squeezing in—how the flashlight seemed impossibly heavy in the hand and how it was tunnel vision in the very strictest sense, compression in all ways, even time, and how you had to wiggle in—ass and elbows—a swallowed-up feeling—and how you found yourself worrying about odd things: Will your flashlight go dead? Do rats carry rabies? If you screamed, how far would the sound carry? Would your buddies hear it? Would they have the courage to drag you out? In some respects, though not many, the waiting was worse than the tunnel itself. Imagination was a killer.

On April 16, when Lee Strunk drew the number 17, he laughed and muttered something and went down quickly. The morning was hot and very still. Not good, Kiowa said. He looked at the tunnel opening, then out across a dry paddy toward the village of Than Khe. Nothing moved. No clouds or birds or people. As they waited, the men smoked and drank Kool-Aid, not talking much, feeling sympathy for Lee Strunk but also feeling the luck of the draw. You win some, you lose some, said Mitchell Sanders, and sometimes you settle for a rain check. It was a tired line and no one laughed.

Henry Dobbins ate a tropical chocolate bar. Ted Lavender popped a tranquilizer and went off to pee.

After five minutes, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross moved to the tunnel, leaned down, and examined the darkness. Trouble, he thought—a cave-in maybe. And then suddenly, without willing it, he was thinking about Martha. The stresses and fractures, the quick collapse, the two of them buried alive under all that weight. Dense, crushing love. Kneeling, watching the hole, he tried to concentrate on Lee Strunk and the war, all the dangers, but his love was too much for him, he felt paralyzed, he wanted to sleep inside

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  • There are a lot of stories out there about the Vietnam War, one of the most politicized and polarizing wars in America's history. But few of those stories are as empathetic and vivid as Tim O'Brien's collection of short stories, based on his personal experiences during the war. The evocative imagery will leave an imprint on you.

    Scribd Editors
  • This series of connected stories is about young men in their late teens, some in their early twenties, doing their best to carry not only the weight of their soldier gear, but also the immense weight of the brutal and intense war on their shoulders. They carry this weight for miles, days, weeks, months, through rivers and muddy streams, up and down dangerous hills, and somehow continually find the courage to place one foot in front of the other. Aside from their gear, and with the war on their shoulders, these young men carry a variety of emotions and problems. Some carry their own guilt, for actions they've done or fear they may do. Others carry their righteousness, believing they are doing the Lord's work. Some carry hatred for their country, or their enemies, and others carry doubt that they will ever return home...

    Scribd Editors

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  • (4/5)
    A somewhat confusing mix of short stories or vignettes that have common characters and setting but give different perspectives on people and their actions and their reactions to the war. This short period in their lives casts a very long shadow – and the exaggerated effects it has on behavior are complex. Some of the things that happen (or don’t—the author states that he has changed some things for effect) are truly horrifying and the book gives you insights into the changes it would make, forever, in anyone who lived through something like this.
  • (4/5)
    There are some things to admire - the whole exploration of storytelling and how it helps one to arrive at the truth is well done. What I found objectionable was the idea that for the fictional (and maybe the real one too) narrator, the only truth about the Vietnam War was the unrelenting sordidness and ugliness of the stories in this novel. There is even the assertion that anyone who tells a story with a moral or that illustrates anything positive about the Vietnam War is lying. I guess I have a higher expectation of what human nature is capable - certainly cowardice and petty violence and callousness - but also true sacrifice, charity and brotherhood also exists.
  • (3/5)
    I picked up this book after having been blown away by the short story (AKA Chapter 1), however the rest of the book, while good, fell far from living up to the first chapter.
  • (5/5)
    I read this as a jaded teenager and it managed to penetrate my armor. Not the details, but the experience of reading it and talking about it. Maybe the first time I had my eyes opened to the different kinds of truth that fiction can tell.
  • (5/5)
    Beautiful writing.
  • (5/5)
    The Things They Carried is an excellent companion to Ken Burns's documentary, The Vietnam War, in which Tim O'Brien is one of the many contributors. It is categorized as a work of fiction...a series of stories about being a foot soldier in Vietnam, which O'Brien was. I think the line between fact and fiction is very very blurry here, but I have no doubt that all of it is True. O'Brien plays around with the concept of truth in fiction within the text; he tells the same story from different perspectives, often repeating certain "facts" like a mantra, or as if the narrator is attempting to settle the "truth" of the matter in his own mind in a way he can live with. He presents certain chapters as direct address to the reader (here's why I told that story that way), but are those "real" or factual, or just also True? There is no shying away from the grim, unimaginable horrors of that particular war; the things clean-cut American kids (many of them teenagers, can we please never never never forget that?) did there that defy their upbringing are spelled out in graphic prose. The things that they suffered and endured and died from, the lies they were told and the other lies they told themselves or their loved ones, the physical torment they learned to live with, and the mental anguish that eventually did some of them in are all in there. And yet the overall effect of The Things They Carried isn't depressing or horrifying at all. It's a brilliant piece of writing, with flashes of pure poetry, and an interesting structure. The sum is quite inexplicably beautiful. Highly recommended.
  • (5/5)
    This goes in the life changing pile.
  • (5/5)
    Read this collection of stories again after many years. Better than I remembered. Superbly written and profoundly moving.
  • (2/5)
    The reviews of this book would lead you to believe that an epic journey into the mind set and daily ritual of the American soldier in Vietnam awaited. It wasn't. The book delved into observation ... somewhat dreamy observation and quick-ended description of memories. Nothing new and certainly nothing more.
  • (5/5)
    An evocative, visceral, meditative look at being part of the Vietnam war and the aftermath it leaves in one's life.It reads like non-fiction, but the author's conversations with you tell you that it is a somewhat fictionalised account. And I like his discussion and meditation on his craft, it adds immeasurably to the book.The structure of the book is non-linear and works wonderfully, with interlinkages throughout and a thread of linearity to keep you grounded.Highly recommended.
  • (5/5)
    Just read it. Powerful, moving, wise and insightful. Nothing I can say here will do this book justice. Just read it.
  • (4/5)
    I had this at 3.5 stars for a minute, fearing a higher rating would betray a MN prejudice. That because O'Brien's completed his anti-war argument my the time the platoon arrives in the Song Tra Bong. He doesn't struggle with the difficult task of explaining a true war story. And that war stories need neither an ending nor make a point to be true. For me, a careful re-read, collecting annotations will guide my story-telling efforts, the chapter "How To Tell a True War Story" as the guide. The chapters are short stories in themselves, but his characters live through them, even after they are factually "dead".
  • (5/5)
    I was born too late to have a personal recollection of the Vietnam Era other than remembering seeing sporadic footage of the war while my dad watched the news. Basically my memory only pulls up images of Walter Cronkite so seriously reporting the death tolls, etc. I am so impressed by this book and even more so by the man behind it. There are various interviews of Mr. O'Brien online and a talk he gave at the Arlington Public Library about this book in particular that is worth watching. He explains why he uses fictional accounts rather than just telling us exactly what his personal experiences were. It is for the purpose of the story and finding a better way to help us see, hear, feel what he felt. He said if he told us that he lay on his bed at night tossing and turning about whether he should run away to Canada or go fight a war he didn't believe in, it wouldn't get his true angst across to us. But the fact he used a fictional account of staying with Mr. Berdahl(?) and what transpired as he looked across the water to Canada and the emotions he struggled with, we could get a better sense of the despair he felt when he made his decision in real life. Same principle for his accounts of the war.On his Facebook page, he recommends a website called BookDrum.com (which I'm so thrilled to find) that will be helpful to anyone reading this book as it gives descriptions of weapons, maps, terminology, cultural references, etc. mentioned in the book and helps clarify details which I, as a civilian who isn't familiar with all things military, appreciate. This book eloquently describes the emotions of fear (terror), anger, confusion, disillusionment, disgust, shame, grief, guilt, etc. that anyone fighting any kind of war must feel. It is so hard to understand how young men and women can face these things and not come back changed. It is also so strange to think that a platoon of soldiers were relying on someone only a few years older than them (Mr. O'Brien's LT was only 24) to guide them. How our soldiers stand up to the pressure is amazing to me. It doesn't matter what our personal beliefs are regarding war or the reasons for war, but the members of the military deserve our utmost respect for facing their fears and doing what is asked of them, whether right or wrong in their eyes or our own.
  • (5/5)
    A series of stories held together by common characcters and place - a squad of soldiers the Viet Nam War. A good read worth visiting again someday. 4.5 stars
  • (5/5)
    ”The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head. There is the illusion of aliveness.” (Page 230)Tim O’Brien is quite a storyteller. Here’s what I felt while I was reading: it was twilight on a hot summer evening. The crickets were chirping as I sat on the porch swing, gently moving it back and forth, while I listened to these stories of this author’s time in Viet Nam. He had me mesmerized from the first page. But wait a minute, what the heck was I reading? When I looked at the LT tags, before I read the book, I saw---memoir, short stories, fiction, historical fiction---memoir and fiction? How is that possible? Further investigation, after I finished the book, revealed that the work is something called metafiction, a term I was unfamiliar with. According to what I gleaned, although the author and the main character in the stories share the same name, age, and experience in Viet Nam, the book is a work of fiction, something the author reiterated many times throughout the narrative. Another thing that helps to define metafiction is the author telling about the writing of the book which happens in the story entitled How to Tell a True War Story.” So apparently this is not memoir but fiction. Why he didn’t make it clear by giving the character a name other than his own is puzzling.The stories are heartbreaking and reveal the depth of despair that one of the worst times in our country’s history brought about. It should be required reading for all those who serve as president or congressional member, those people who make the decisions to send boys to war; those who choose to put lives on the line while they rest comfortably at home. The stories also reveal the camaraderie apparent in the relationships between these brave soldiers. If we can’t learn from these experiences we’re bound to make the same mistakes, over and over.The characters are all well-drawn and show great depth and the almost two dozen interrelated and interwoven stories that comprise this book, are incredibly well done. Some will tear your heart out. Some will make you smile. Some will fill you with amazement and wonder. And anger. The first (and title) story The Things They Carriedhad enormous impact and set the stage for what was to come and introduced, intimately, the characters: ”The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near-necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes. Military Payment Certificates, C rations…Most of them were common grunts and carried the standard M-16 gas-operated assault rifle which weighed 23 pounds unloaded, but which was always loaded.” (Page 4)As you turn the pages and get to know the members of Alpha Company, you realize you are in the hands of a master storyteller and for him it’s all about the story:”Forty-three years old, and the war occurred half a lifetime ago, and yet the remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.” (Page 38) And as a reader, what more could you want? Very highly recommended.
  • (5/5)
    I cannot believe that I never read this book until now even though I've been told for years how good it is. I read it because one of my teaching colleagues in our book group is teaching it this spring and asked us to read it. I came away at the end thinking that it might be the best book written in the second half of the 20c. It is as others will say searingly honest, poetic, even humorous at moments. The burden of war is so real and the need not to send young men (and women) off to war so ever-present-- both style and structure support the theme,
  • (4/5)
    Although Mr. O'Brien claims this to be a book of fiction, much of it is factual. Whether it happened to these particular characters or not, he describes the Vietnam experience by making you feel as if you were there.The things they carried weren't just in their ruck sacks. They were in their hearts, minds, emotions and souls. The physical things they carried gave you a more in-depth look at each characters personality.Mr. O'Brien writes in a way that mixes humor with gore and the psychological way each man had to deal with his tour. It is an extremely fascinating book and I highly recommend it to anyone who want's to learn these experience our brave veterans faced and what war can do to a soldier.
  • (5/5)
    This book reads like non-fiction. Tim O'Brien served in combat in the Vietnam War. He saw many of the horrors that he describes in this book. But his goal is not to tell us what he calls the "happening-truth," to provide an accounting of the actual events. Instead, he is direct about his purpose, saying, "I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth. . . What stories can do, I guess, is make things present" (pp. 170-1). O'Brien succeeds in achieving this purpose. He does not tell a linear story, but in a series of vignettes, he takes us to the front lines of the Vietnam war. He takes us inside the heads and the hearts of the young men who served there. He tells us about the things they discussed, the ways they spent their time, the friendships they formed, and the things they carried. He puts a face on the war. The stories he tells are intimate. It seems that he is telling these stories for himself - to remember, to understand - and we are lucky enough to read over his shoulder.
  • (5/5)
    I found The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien to be at times an uncomfortable read, and at others an inspiring read. At all times however, this is a superbly written story of what it really felt like to be a young combat soldier in Viet Nam. Not a straight forward story as it has very little to do with plot, but rather the random reminiscing of a young man sent to a strange, foreign country to fight in an unpopular war. At times I forget that most wars are fought by the young. The boys in this book were, in many cases, not even in their twenties, and their immediate leaders were only a year or two older. As an older woman, looking back on this, and thinking of all the other boys that are serving their countries even today, I feel such compassion for both them and their families. Tim O’Brien, like so many others, has been haunted by his experiences in Viet Nam, and I hope by penning this fine memoir, he has been able to lay some of these ghosts to rest. I would recommend that anyone who wants to get a real feel for what Viet Nam was like for American soldiers that they read both The Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes and The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.
  • (5/5)
    The first book I ever read from Tim O'Brien. A great first person account of the Vietnam War. Very raw and true.
  • (5/5)
    This novel is a tale of Tim O'Brien's true encounters during the Vietnam War. It explains how men carry certain extra items to their already heavy load to keep them sane and in touch with reality. It is a tough time and the platoon is constantly losing men. This novel takes the reader into the gruesome true stories of Tim and his platoon. O'Brien uses real names for all his characters which I believe is a respectful aspect. I would recommend this book for a social studies lesson or for a pleasure read. The reader can not help but become attached to each character as the story bring personality and life to all the stories.
  • (5/5)
    Beautiful and haunting stories about the nature and the burdens of those who have to go to war.
  • (5/5)
    I've read several of O'Brien's novels, but this collection of related short stories about the Vietnam War is his most powerful work. Indeed, it is one of the most powerful books I have read.
  • (4/5)
    O'Brien writes about war in a horribly realistic war. His stuff is fascinating, though often brutal and tough to read. He mixes reality and fiction like no other author I have read.
  • (4/5)
    This is a must read for anyone who is pro-war. A set of short stories, but the characters in each of the stories is the same group of people in O'Brian's Alpha company during the Vietnam War. Powerful stories.
  • (5/5)
    One of my favorite books. Definitely multiple re-reads in order. Powerful, yet subtle writing that opens the reader up to the private spheres of servicemen/veterans.
  • (5/5)
    A very moving account of Vietnam viewed through the lens of later on. At first I thought this was all a bit cliched and haven't I seen the film of this before but then the fragmentary construction, the repetitions, the endless going over the same ground got to me and I was hooked/haunted. Also a meditation on fiction, why we tell stories and how.
  • (5/5)
    Accolades for this book preceded my reading but now I "get it." A collection of 'stories' about the author, Tim O'Brien's experiences in Vietnam. Many of these stories were first published elsewhere and they shine as pure gems. Whether or not the stories are true or embellished, they are all made better in the telling. He relates is attempts to run to Canada to avoid the draft and the strange peaceful interlude he encountered there. He tells of his colleagues dying (one, literally, in a shit field) and of people disappearing (Mary Anne Bell who arrives in 'culottes' and devolves into a completely different kind of creature) of gallows humor ("Lemon Tree" the song will never be the same for me) and of unspeakable sorrow. He has his own close brush with death and describes the shock and pain and descent into near oblivion. Bad language, violence, senseless violence, drug use, death and destruction: it's all here; despite this, this is highly recommended reading for anyone trying to understand the Vietnam War. In contrast, The Ghost Soldier pales to a bed-time story.
  • (4/5)
    Memorable stories. Vivid language. Brilliant structure. I imagine this is one of those war books that people who passionately hate war books can tolerate, if not enjoy.

    O'Brien's straddling the line of fiction and non-fiction is done skillfully and makes this book what it is. This is all true, he tells the reader, but it's not. Except that it is. Commentary on "what is truth" aside, I have a feeling many of O'Brien's Vietnam stories are more true than he leads on.

    Despite having enjoyed The Things They Carried I doubt I will return to Tim O'Brien anytime soon. His other novels largely deal with the same subject and it's been so masterfully done in this one that the others would pale in comparison.
  • (5/5)
    I know this is labeled fiction but there is a realism here that told me the author had been there and gone through these things. There is a starkness in the prose that cuts to the truth and does not embellish it. Very powerfully written. It left its mark upon me. This is not a book that I will be able to work away from and forget.