The Things They Carried.


Author: Tim O’Brien

Title: The Things They Carried.

Genre: Literary Fiction, Psychological Fiction

Publication Date: 1990

Number of Pages: 273 p.

Geographical Setting: Vietnam

Time Period: Vietnam War, 1961-1975

Series: n/a

Plot Summary: This novel is a collection of short stories and essays about one group of soldiers’ Vietnam experiences.  O’Brien details what the soldiers carry with them physically as well as emotionally throughout the war and he gives the reader a first-person insight into the mind of a young Vietnam vet.  Often O’Brien tells the same story from multiple perspectives and the reader is left with a gritty and realistic portrait of what life was like for a soldier in Vietnam.

Subject Headings: Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Veterans — Fiction

Appeal: dark humor, relaxed pacing, lyrical, gritty, character-driven, reflective, hard-edged, sobering, thoughtful, vivid, introspective.

3 terms that best describe this book: Gritty, Moving, Reflective

Similar Authors and Works

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

  1. Life of an American Soldier: The Vietnam War by Diane Yancey.  This nonfiction book details the type of war fought in Vietnam, as well as the difficulties the soldiers faced both during the war and upon returning home.  This novel provides in-depth background information about the stresses soldiers faced during Vietnam.
  2. Trained to Kill: Soldiers at War by Theodore Nadelson.  Written by a psychiatrist, this book takes a detailed look at the effects of war and violence on a soldier’s mental well-being, as well as the consequences of killing as a job.  For readers who enjoyed the psychology in The Things They Carried this may be a good supplement.
  3. Our Brother’s Keeper: My Family’s Journey through Vietnam to Hell and Back by Jedwin Smith.  This nonfiction book looks at the effect of the Vietnam War on the family left behind after the death of a soldier.  This may provide for enjoyable further reading.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

  1. Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes.  Like The Things They Carried this novel gives a detailed and realistic account of what young soldiers faced in the jungles of Vietnam.
  2. Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson.  This novel also centers on the Vietnam War although the storyline here is completely fictional.  For readers who enjoyed the variety of viewpoints and different modes of storytelling in The Things They Carried, Tree of Smoke may be an enjoyable read.
  3. People of the Whale by Linda Hogan.  This novel follows a Native American man as he decides to enlist in the Vietnam War and leave behind his tribe and wife.  While in Vietnam, he fathers a child with another woman and upon returning home must deal with the fallout of his betrayal, as well as his tribe’s decision to hunt a whale – one full of spiritual complexities.  For readers who enjoy Vietnam as a setting and the lyrical style of The Things They Carried, People of the Whale may be a good read.

Name: Liz Humrickhouse


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