Author Kevin Powers.

It feels a bit uncomfortable to describe The Yellow Birds as beautiful.

But not to do so takes too much from Kevin Powers. His story of two young soldiers - 19 and 21 years old - and their 10 months in Iraq has a surreal, ethereal beauty to it. But lying just beneath that beauty, simmering slightly out of focus yet just within reach, is a horrifying futility, violence and gut-wrenching sadness.

This could only have been written by a soldier. Yet it feels very different to other war stories. The impact is powerful although the story is delivered through the eyes of a young poet whose naivety and lyricism combine in a strikingly unusual form.

A work of fiction, The Yellow Birds tells the story of Pete Bartle and Daniel Murphy, young boys from Richmond, Virginia, who enlist in an unknown war. They are thrust together, forced into a camaraderie that is doomed to change both of their lives forever.

Kevin Powers is an Iraqi War veteran - he signed up when he was 17 and was in his early twenties when he went to Iraq. Originally from Richmond, he holds a Bachelor of English with a Masters degree in fine arts and poetry.

His fiction feels horrifyingly personal. But The Yellow Birds is not his story. "It's not my story because the things that happen in the book are not the things I experienced when I was overseas," Powers explains down the phone from Florence, Italy, where he is living with his wife, who studies fashion design there.

"I think about it rather as emotionally real. I can relate to all three characters (Bartle, Murphy and their commanding officer, Sergeant Sterling). The kind of confusion was very real and it felt true. But as for the specific things of the story, they didn't happen."

Whether fact or fiction, stories of war seem to carry an incredible responsibility - more than others - to make some attempt to explain to those left behind.

"I have had emails and letters from veterans and families of veterans, spouses, mothers and fathers," says Powers.

"A lot of them say it has given them an insight into what their loved one was going through, and they can figure out how to talk about their experiences. I tried to tap into that, something that people who weren't there wouldn't know about."

Despite it not being his own story, in many ways, Powers explained it couldn't be separated from him.

"With anything I write, whether it's a poem or this book, I have questions of my own that I am trying to ask or articulate."

The West Australian

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