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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,[…]

What burdens does the author of “The Things They Carried” still bear?

Question: What things do you carry?


Tim O’Brien: What do I carry? rn I carry a lot of years that I feel, that are—and that’s notrnall bad, it’s partly bad.  Irncarry—what I think will probably come through in this talk we’ve had rntoday isrnprobably a delight in doing what I do, and a belief in doing what I do, rnalongrnwith a sadness about doing what I do. rnAnd because two decades later, I’m fielding questions about war rnthat Irnfielded all those years ago.  Irnsay, oh my God, you know, it’s sort of back where we were and then rnsome—that,rnthat feels like a tangible burden. rnBut I carry with me these two kids that I mentioned, and even rnthoughrnthey are not physically here, they’re all around me and the person I’vernbecome.  And they’re living insidernme.  And I carry a slight, butrnpalpable, feel of obligation to do justice to the savagery I witnessed rnand thernsenselessness of it and the sadness of it.  And rnthat sense of obligation is with me, especially onrnoccasions like this one where we’re trying to talk lucidly about thisrnstuff.  To do justice to Chip, myrnbuddy, and for the ghosts of the dead Vietnamese and dead Americans andrnespecially their mothers and dads who are still bearing the burden—even rnthoughrntheir kids are long dead, I doubt they go to sleep many nights without rnsomernpoor woman in Orlando remembering her son of 40 years ago that she neverrn got tornever hold again.  And that’s arnpretty solemn obligation.

Recorded March 22, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen