Two young soldiers tightly bonded since their days in basic training hang on through a battle in Iraq in Kevin Powers’s The Yellow Birds (Little, Brown)

“I have been looking for fiction from our current wars, and here at last comes a voice from inside the fire,” says executive v-p and publisher Michael Pietsch. Pietsch compares the debut novel to Tim O’Brien’s 1990 story collection, The Things They Carried, saying the two books share “explosively dispassionate observation.”

Powers, 31, who just earned an M.F.A. in poetry, joined the Army at 17 and served in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. He says, “I can’t tell you how many times I was asked, ‘What was it like over there?’ I tried to answer that question, eventually realizing that any answer would have to be given on an individual level if it could be answered at all, and that the answer would be as much about ‘likenesses’ as it would be about war. I wanted to find a way to eliminate as many of the impediments as I could that would prevent someone from understanding the war as this narrator experiences it. And his war is as much about guilt and fear and anger as it is about the physical reality of combat. I wanted to explore the way these extremes of physical experience are integrated into one’s understanding of the world, and to try to illuminate just how difficult that task is.”

Powers, who is represented by Peter Straus at Rogers, Coleridge and White Literary Agency, adds, “If I was trying to summarize what I was exploring in the book it would be this: what does it mean to try to be good and fail?”