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Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War Hardcover – March 23, 2010
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Amazon Exclusive: Mark Bowden Reviews Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War
Mark Bowden is the bestselling author of Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War, as well as The Best Game Ever, Bringing the Heat, Killing Pablo, and Guests of the Ayatollah. He reported at The Philadelphia Inquirer for twenty years and now writes for Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, and other magazines. He lives in Oxford, Pennsylvania.
Matterhorn is a great novel. There have been some very good novels about the Vietnam War, but this is the first great one, and I doubt it will ever be surpassed. Karl Marlantes overlooks no part of the experience, large or small, from a terrified soldier pondering the nature of good and evil, to the feel and smell of wet earth against scorched skin as a man tries to press himself into the ground to escape withering fire. Here is story-telling so authentic, so moving and so intense, so relentlessly dramatic, that there were times I wasn’t sure I could stand to turn the page. As with the best fiction, I was sad to reach the end.
The wrenching combat in Matterhorn is ultimately pointless; the marines know they are fighting a losing battle in the long run. Bravo Company carves out a fortress on the top of the hill so named, one of countless low, jungle-coated mountains near the border of Laos, only to be ordered to abandon it when they are done. After the enemy claims the hill’s deep bunkers and carefully constructed fields of fire, the company is ordered to take it back, to assault their own fortifications. They do so with devastating consequences, only to be ordered in the end to abandon Matterhorn once again.
Against this backdrop of murderous futility, Marlantes’ memorable collection of marines is pushed to its limits and beyond. As the deaths and casualties mount, the men display bravery and cowardice, ferocity and timidity, conviction and doubt, hatred and love, intelligence and stupidity. Often these opposites are contained in the same person, especially in the book’s compelling main character, Second Lt. Waino Mellas. As Mellas and his men struggle to overcome impossible barriers of landscape, they struggle to overcome similarly impossible barriers between each other, barriers of race and class and rank. Survival forces them to cling to each other and trust each other and ultimately love each other. There has never been a more realistic portrait or eloquent tribute to the nobility of men under fire, and never a more damning portrait of a war that ground them cruelly underfoot for no good reason.
Marlantes brilliantly captures the way combat morphs into clean abstraction as fateful decisions move up the chain of command, further and further away from the actual killing and dying. But he is too good a novelist to paint easy villains. His commanders make brave decisions and stupid ones. High and low there is the same mix of cowardice and bravery, ambition and selflessness, ineptitude and competence.
There are passages in this book that are as good as anything I have ever read. This one comes late in the story, when the main character, Mellas, has endured much, has killed and also confronted the immediate likelihood of his own death, and has digested the absurdity of his mission: "He asked for nothing now, nor did he wonder if he had been good or bad. Such concepts were all part of the joke he’d just discovered. He cursed God directly for the savage joke that had been played on him. And in that cursing Mellas for the first time really talked with his God. Then he cried, tears and snot mixing together as they streamed down his face, but his cries were the rage and hurt of a newborn child, at last, however roughly, being taken from the womb."
Vladimir Nabokov once said that the greatest books are those you read not just with your heart or your mind, but with your spine. This is one for the spine. --Mark Bowden
From Publishers Weekly
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A review of
Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes
Although it's true that Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War isn't your ordinary war novel, it will give the reader an historically accurate and alarming vivid experience of the conflict that took place over 40 years ago in South East Asia. Just like other books of this type, the person who reads this 622 page book will be taken through the lives of teen boy's as they struggle with the reality of becoming a Marine, their painfully rapid acceleration into adulthood and too often their seemingly meaningless demise. As in other stories about war it has all of the usual components like the deep comradery between solders, the sorrow of loss, the intense fear of battle and the excitement of combat. Readers of this genre will not be disappointed. However, author Karl Marlantes has gone above, beyond and far deeper with Matterhorn than the ordinary war novel.
In this book about the Vietnam War, is another book about humanity and humility, and yet another about the complexities of racism. What also immerges within these pages is another story laced with subtle religious symbolism and the effects of a sacrosanct ideology. Even a rendition of a well-known allegorical tales is exquisitely presented as still another story in this winning novel.
The individually unique characters in this book grapple with meaning; the meaning of leadership, the meaning of reason, the meaning of war, the meaning of death and the meaning of life. Human dilemmas such as honor vs. cowardice, morality vs. malice, feminine vs. masculine and belief vs. doubt are painstaking studied and flushed out through the rich personalities portrayed within.Read more ›
The letter from the publisher included with the review copy of this book says that Vietnam War and USMC veteran Karl Marlantes wrote this over the thirty years after his service ended. It was worth every minute of the wait.
Marlantes presents us with a classic of American literature. That it falls into the genre of war literature is secondary to the stunning narrative, the vivid characters, and the gravity of every action depicted over more than 500 riveting pages.
"Matterhorn" is centered on the experience of a Waino Mellas, a USMC second lieutenant and infantry officer, during the first three months of his thirteen-month rotation in Vietnam. Among the conflicts Mellas is forced to comprehend at a rapid pace (and which Marlantes illustrates with precision, simplicity and unerring accuracy):
-replacements and veterans
-conscripts and careerists
-officers and enlisted
-blacks and whites
-infantry and aviation
-the differing realities of command elements in the rear and maneuver forces in contact with an elusive and determined enemy.
Some of these were unique or amplified in Vietnam, others are enduring issues in any military setting. Marlantes captures them with museum-quality clarity.
Marlantes threads these conflicts and navigates Mellas through three combat patrols as he seeks to understand his own competence as a leader of young men whose lives and limbs -like his own- are subject to the variable qualities of enemy ordnance, the decisions of leaders and their commitment to each other.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great story. Lots of marine jargon which can be hard to get through if you're not used to it. Would've been 4 stars if I could've sailed through the lingo easierPublished 11 hours ago by Amazon Customer
Thought it was going to be a good read. Instead, it was written with extremely stereo-typical characters and narrative. Read morePublished 1 day ago by Stan Bridgman
One of the best, if not THE best novel of the Viet Nam war. I had read an earlier book he'd written about his own experiences in the bush in Nam. Read morePublished 5 days ago by F. Norman Vickers
I was about 50 or so miles south of where this story takes place. During 68, 69, and 70 I was with the First Marine Air Wing, 3rd Battalion 26th Marines, and 3rd Battalion First... Read morePublished 14 days ago by Rubio Pelosi
This is a riveting novel which could only be written by one who was there...I know because I was in Vietnam during much of the time the author describes. Read morePublished 25 days ago by Lawrence Mayes
I have read just about every book, fiction and nonfiction, about the Vietnam War; this work is haunting and unforgettable and hands down the best.Published 1 month ago by Dixie