The Things Tim O’Brien Carries

Tim O'Brien is an American novelist. His books include the National Book Award-winning "Going After Cacciato" (1978), as well as his debut novel, "If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home" (1973); his most recent novel, "July, July" (2002); and the Pulitzer Prize finalist "The Things They Carried" (1990), a combination novel/short story collection/memoir based on his experiences in the Vietnam War. A special twentieth anniversary edition of "The Things They Carried" was released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2010.
  • Transcript


Question: What things do you carry?

Tim O’Brien: What do I carry?  I carry a lot of years that I feel, that are—and that’s not all bad, it’s partly bad.  I carry—what I think will probably come through in this talk we’ve had today is probably a delight in doing what I do, and a belief in doing what I do, along with a sadness about doing what I do.  And because two decades later, I’m fielding questions about war that I fielded all those years ago.  I say, oh my God, you know, it’s sort of back where we were and then some—that, that feels like a tangible burden.  But I carry with me these two kids that I mentioned, and even though they are not physically here, they’re all around me and the person I’ve become.  And they’re living inside me.  And I carry a slight, but palpable, feel of obligation to do justice to the savagery I witnessed and the senselessness of it and the sadness of it.  And that sense of obligation is with me, especially on occasions like this one where we’re trying to talk lucidly about this stuff.  To do justice to Chip, my buddy, and for the ghosts of the dead Vietnamese and dead Americans and especially their mothers and dads who are still bearing the burden—even though their kids are long dead, I doubt they go to sleep many nights without some poor woman in Orlando remembering her son of 40 years ago that she never got to ever hold again.  And that’s a pretty solemn obligation.

Recorded March 22, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen