the things they carried coverAuthor: Tim O’Brien

Number of Pages: 233

Publisher: Mariner Books

Release Date: 1990

“In 1979, Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato – a novel about the Vietnam War – won the National Book Award. In this, his second work of fiction about Vietnam, O’Brien’s unique artistic vision is again clearly demonstrated. Neither a novel nor a short story collection, it is an arc of fictional episodes, taking place in the childhoods of its characters, in the jungles of Vietnam and back home in America two decades later.”


I read this with my American Literature class recently, since we were learning about how war impacts people, specifically the Vietnam War. At first I was a little reluctant to read it due to the fact that a) war stories aren’t generally my forte and b) I’m not a huge fan of short stories altogether. When given the choice, I would much rather read a novel than short stories. However, while reading this book I soon realized that I needn’t have been hesitant to read it at all.

Although this appears to be a collection of short stories, it really is more like a novel. All of the stories share a common pool of diverse characters, and you get to know more about them individually and collectively with every passing page. Many of the stories weave and intertwine with each other as well, and often they really do feel more like chapters in a novel than distinct short stories in a collection. Some stories are short, merely a few pages, whereas others span nearly twenty pages. The different lengths help keep the reader interested and engaged, especially while reading for longer periods of time. Each story was unique, and yet they all fit into the overarching idea of the entire book itself.

I absolutely loved Tim O’Brien’s writing style. He talks about the war in a way that someone who has not gone through it can kind of understand what it’s like, to the extent that this is possible. At times this book reads like a normal story written in regular prose. However, there are also parts where it is more like a stream of consciousness. It helps the reader get inside the minds of the characters and understand what and how they think. Besides the topic of war, O’Brien additionally discusses the act of writing itself, and how it can be used as both a coping mechanism and a way to bring back all the old memories he had been trying to suppress. I felt like I could really connect with those parts, since I use writing as a way to relieve stress as well (although my stress is nothing compared to what he has been through in his life.)

This book is unique in the fact that it mixes real life and fiction. Some of the stories have mere ounces of truth in them, buried far below the words, while others seem to be almost play-by-play accounts. However, one aspect I did not like about this book was that it’s difficult to what actually happened to him and what didn’t. I don’t suppose this has a direct correlation with the book itself, since it can be read as a complete work of fiction without losing much of the meaning. But as someone who is curious about what is truth and what isn’t, that aspect was quite frustrating.

Overall, I was surprised by how much I actually liked this book. It has provided my American Literature class with a lot to discuss, and I believe that it has given me a new perspective on not only the Vietnam War but on war as a whole as well.

My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) 4 out of 5 smileys.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes, however keep in mind that there are a few graphic and disturbing parts of this book. They can easily be skipped over, but if you are very sensitive to violence and gore then this may not be the book for you.

Have you ever read this book? What did you think of it? Do you like to read war stories? Let me know in the comments section below!




5 thoughts on “Book Review: THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

  1. I read an excerpt for this in a creative writing class in college, and I picked it up again years later to read the rest of it. I agree with your review, and it left me with a new respect for our vets, especially the Vietnam Vets. It also reminded me that most of the guys over there were little more than kids. The vignette style of prose made the horrors in to smaller, more digestible pieces. I’m not sure if it could have been written in any other way.


    1. The division of the stories into smaller parts definitely made it easier to understand and to absorb. I didn’t know much about the Vietnam War before- I mean, I knew the politics and stuff behind it, but I never knew the conditions that the soldiers went through and the horrors they experienced. This novel definitely opened my eyes to those aspects of the war. Thanks for commenting! 🙂


    1. Same! The author’s writing style definitely made this book more enjoyable for me. I think it’s amazing that Tim O’Brien was able to put all of his feelings of the war down on paper like that. It must have taken a great amount of strength, a strength that only certain people hold within them. Thanks for commenting! 🙂


  2. I’ve had this sitting on my shelf for the longest time, and for some reason have never picked it up! I’ll put it a little higher up now that I’ve read your review though! 🙂


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