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Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War Paperback – May 10, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (May 10, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802145310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802145314
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.7 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,011 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,716 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, March 2010: Matterhorn is a marvel--a living, breathing book with Lieutenant Waino Mellas and the men of Bravo Company at its raw and battered heart. Karl Marlantes doesn't introduce you to Vietnam in his brilliant war epic--he unceremoniously drops you into the jungle, disoriented and dripping with leeches, with only the newbie lieutenant as your guide. Mellas is a bundle of anxiety and ambition, a college kid who never imagined being part of a "war that none of his friends thought was worth fighting," who realized too late that "because of his desire to look good coming home from a war, he might never come home at all." A highly decorated Vietnam veteran himself, Marlantes brings the horrors and heroism of war to life with the finesse of a seasoned writer, exposing not just the things they carry, but the fears they bury, the friends they lose, and the men they follow. Matterhorn is as much about the development of Mellas from boy to man, from the kind of man you fight beside to the man you fight for, as it is about the war itself. Through his untrained eyes, readers gain a new perspective on the ravages of war, the politics and bureaucracy of the military, and the peculiar beauty of brotherhood. --Daphne Durham

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

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Thirty years in the making, Marlantes's epic debut is a dense, vivid narrative spanning many months in the lives of American troops in Vietnam as they trudge across enemy lines, encountering danger from opposing forces as well as on their home turf. Marine lieutenant and platoon commander Waino Mellas is braving a 13-month tour in Quang-Tri province, where he is assigned to a fire-support base and befriends Hawke, older at 22; both learn about life, loss, and the horrors of war. Jungle rot, leeches dropping from tree branches, malnourishment, drenching monsoons, mudslides, exposure to Agent Orange, and wild animals wreak havoc as brigade members face punishing combat and grapple with bitterness, rage, disease, alcoholism, and hubris. A decorated Vietnam veteran, the author clearly understands his playing field (including military jargon that can get lost in translation), and by examining both the internal and external struggles of the battalion, he brings a long, torturous war back to life with realistic characters and authentic, thrilling combat sequences. Marlantes's debut may be daunting in length, but it remains a grand, distinctive accomplishment. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

A graduate of Yale University and a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, Karl Marlantes served as a Marine in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals for valor, two Purple Hearts, and ten air medals. His debut novel, Matterhorn, will be published in April 2010 by Grove/Atlantic.

Customer Reviews

Very well written.
Robert H Powers
Whatever you think you know about war, about men under arms and about the war in Vietnam will be challenged by this book.
35-year Technology Consumer
One of those books you read which you just cannot put down.
Double D

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1,270 of 1,286 people found the following review helpful By Rodger Clemons on March 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I am not qualified, so I will not attempt a literary review of the book "Matterhorn". What I am qualified to comment on is the authenticity of this novel. I was in Vietnam at the same time the author was, our experience differed mainly in the name of our units. Marlantes was in Charlie 1/4, I was in Alpha 1/4. It's all so accurate, so real, and brought back a flood of memories from my time in the jungle. If a person wants to know what it was like to be a grunt in a Marine Corps rifle Co in I Corps in the Republic of Vietnam in the late 60's, then read "Matterhorn". I cannot express how impressed I was by this novel. Mr. Marlantes NAILED it. He wrote my story, and the story of the men I humped those jungle trails with, the men I fought, cried, and died with. Thank you Sir.

Semper Fi
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427 of 451 people found the following review helpful By Lorry Kaye, MA, LMHC on May 29, 2009
Format: Paperback
A Story Within a Story, Within a Story.....
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.
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206 of 217 people found the following review helpful By 35-year Technology Consumer TOP 500 REVIEWER on February 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Whatever you think you know about war, about men under arms and about the war in Vietnam will be challenged by this book. It's quite simply a masterpiece.

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.
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74 of 77 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
...well, not too far. The "gestation period" might have taken awhile, like 40 years, no doubt to get it just right, and Karl Marlantes did. The quintessential Vietnam War novel has finally been born.

"There it is." The classic Vietnam expression uttered when the essential truth has been stated. All too appropriate for this novel, that never mentions Saigon. The machinations of the politicos are conveyed only as a distant abstraction. The action is shorn of all reporters whose vision was all too often refracted by, er, ah, "editorial concerns." The novel covers a two month period, in the early spring of 1969, during the monsoon season. The fighting occurs just south of an imaginary line once drawn in Geneva, to denote a temporary boundary of two years duration, until "free elections" were held to reunite the two sections of the country. Those often touted elections were never held, since the "wrong guy" would have won. And so two countries were created, at least in the West. Some of the fiercest fighting occurred in this area, around a classic misnomer, the "Demilitarized Zone," in the heart of the Annamite Cordillera where even the Vietnamese would not live: too high, too cold, too infertile and too much of the very bad malaria, the kind that felled Parker. And now the "is" was, save for the few who still carry the memories of those impossibly remote jungle valleys with them. Marlantes faithfully retained those memories, transforming them into a compelling story, for the many who were not there.

Marlantes' novel includes a few vital aides, for the few, as well as the many.
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