Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried
The award-winning author of nine works of fiction and a former reporter for The Washington Post, Tim O’Brien had what some would call a typical 1950s American childhood in rural Minnesota before he was sent to fight in Vietnam as a foot soldier in 1969. Published in 1990 to vast critical acclaim and written with the help of a National Endowment for the Arts creative writing fellowship, The Things They Carried, a novel about his experiences in that war, has sold well over two million copies worldwide and was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. More recently, the book was included among Amazon.com’s “List of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime” and was credited as the inspiration for a National Veterans Art Museum exhibit of the same name in Chicago. The book is part memoir, part fiction, and O’Brien―the original master of truthiness―wishes you luck figuring out which is which. It’s a “marvel of storytelling which matters not only to the reader interested in Vietnam but to anyone interested in the craft of writing” (The New York Times). It’s “controlled and wild, deep and tough, perceptive and shrewd” (Chicago Sun-Times) and based on how it continues to resonate with audiences, particularly among young readers, it undoubtedly “stands the test of time” (PBS NewsHour). This is the book’s 30th anniversary.
“In prose that combines the sharp, unsentimental rhythms of Hemingway with gentler, more lyrical descriptions, Mr. O’Brien gives the reader a shockingly visceral sense of what it felt like to tramp through a booby-trapped jungle, carrying 20 pounds of supplies, 14 pounds of ammunition, along with radios, machine guns, assault rifles and grenades…With The Things They Carried, Mr. O’Brien has written a vital, important book – a book that matters not only to the reader interested in Vietnam, but to anyone interested in the craft of writing as well.” – Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
“[B]elongs high on the list of best fiction about any war…crystallizes the Vietnam experience for everyone [and] exposes the nature of all war stories.” – New York Times, “Books of the Century”
“O’Brien has written a book so searing and immediate you can almost hear the choppers in the background. Drenched in irony and purple-haze napalm, the Vietnam narrative has almost been forced to produce a new kind of war literature. The Things They Carried is an extraordinary contribution to that class of fiction…O’Brien’s passion and memory may have been his torment all these years, but they have also been his gift…The Things They Carried leaves third-degree burns. Between its rhythmic brilliance and its exquisite rendering of memory–the slant of sunlight in the midst of war, the look on a man’s face as he steps on a mine–this is prose headed for the nerve center of what was Vietnam.”–The Boston Globe
“Simply marvelous…A striking sequence of stories that twist and turn and bounce off each other…O’Brien has invented a tone of voice precisely suited to this war: it conveys a risky load of sentiment kept in check by both a chaste prose and a fair amount of comedy…Wars seldom produce good short stories, but two or three of these seem as good as any short stories written about any war…Immensely affecting.” – Newsweek
“The author of the National Book Award-winning Going After Cacciato offers us fiction in a unique form: a kind of ‘faction’ presented as a collection of related stories that have the cumulative effect of a unified novel…The prose ranges from staccato soldierly thoughts to raw depictions of violent death to intense personal ruminations by the author that don’t appear to be fictional at all. Just when you thought there was nothing left to say about the Vietnam experience…there’s plenty.” – Booklist
“Astonishing…Richly wrought and filled with war’s paradoxes, The Things They Carried will reward a second, or even a third, reading…His ambitious, modernistic fable, Going After Cacciato, raised the American war novel to new artistic realms. The Things They Carried is also astonishing-in a whole new way.” – Boston Sunday Herald
“The best of these stories – and none is written with less than the sharp edge of honed vision – are memory and prophecy. These tell us not where we were but where we are, and perhaps where we will be…It is an ultimate, indelible image of war in our time, and in time to come” – Los Angeles Times
“The Things They Carried is as good as any piece of literature can get…It is controlled and wild, deep and tough, perceptive and shrewd.” – Chicago Sun Times
A New York Times Book of the Century
A Pulitzer Prize Finalist
A National Book Critics’ Circle Award Finalist
Winner of the Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger (France)
Winner of the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize
Now with over two million copies in print, The Things They Carried is a classic work of American literature that has not stopped changing minds and lives since it burst onto the literary scene. It is a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling.
Tim O Brien received the 1979 National Book Award for Going After Cacciato. Among his other books are In the Lake of the Woods, Tomcat in Love, If I Die in a Combat Zone, and July, July.
This event honors of Fred K. Darragh.