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Mash: A Novel About Three Army Doctors Paperback – March 19, 1997
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From the Back Cover
Before there were the movie and the television series, there was the novel that gave birth to such American immortals as Hawkeye and Trapper John, Hot Lips Houlihan, Frank Burns, Radar O'Reilly, and the rest of the 4077th MASH--a place like no place else in Korea or on earth.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
When Radar O'Reilly, just out of high school, left Ottumwa, Iowa, and enlisted in the United States Army it was with the express purpose of making a career of the Signal Corps. Radar O'Reilly was only five feet three inches tall, but he had a long, thin neck and large ears that left his head at perfect right angles. Furthermore, under certain atmospheric, as well as metabolic, conditions, and by enforcing complete concentration and invoking unique extrasensory powers, he was able to receive messages and monitor conversations far beyond the usual range of human hearing.
With this to his advantage it seemed to Radar O'Reilly that he was a natural for the communications branch of the service, and so, following graduation, he turned down various highly attractive business opportunities, some of them legitimate, and decided to serve his country. Before his enlistment, in fact, he used to fall asleep at night watching a whole succession of, first, sleeve stripes, and then shoulder insignia, floating by until he would see himself, with four stars on his shoulders, conducting high-level Pentagon briefings, attending White House dinner parties and striding imperiously to ringside tables in New York night clubs.
In the middle of November of the year 1951 A.D., Radar O'Reilly, a corporal in the United States Army Medical Corps, was sitting in the Painless Polish Poker and Dental Clinic of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital astride the 38th Parallel in South Korea, ostensibly trying to fill a straight flush. Having received the message that the odds against such a fortuitous occurrence open at 72,192 to 1, what he was actually doing was monitoring a telephone conversation. The conversation was being conducted, over a precarious connection, between Brigadier General Hamilton Hartington Hammond, the Big Medical General forty- five miles to the south in Seoul, and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Braymore Blake, in the office of the commanding officer of the 4077th MASH, just forty-five yards to Radar O'Reilly's east.
"Listen," Radar O'Reilly said, his head turning slowly back and forth in the familiar scanning action.
"Listen to what?" Captain Walter Koskiusko Waldowski, the Dental Officer and Painless Pole, asked.
"Henry," Radar O'Reilly said, "is trying for two new cutters."
"I gotta have two more men," Colonel Blake was shouting into the phone, and Radar could hear it.
"What do you think you're running up there?" General Hammond was shouting back, and Radar could hear that, too. "Walter Reed Hospital?"
"Now you listen to me . . ." Colonel Blake was saying.
"Just take it easy, Henry," General Hammond was saying.
"I won't take it easy," Colonel Blake shouted. "If I don't get two . . ."
"All right! All right!" General Hammond shouted. "So I'll send you the two best men I have."
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Top customer reviews
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take M*A*S*H. it would soon become a pretty entertaining (if frankly overrated) movie, then blossom into hands-down the finest tv series of it's day. it began, however, as a mid-level novel that proves interesting but falls short in spots. so much so, in fact, that i'm still not sure how to rate it. i enjoyed it more than i expected to and just might read it again someday, which suggests it's worth at least 4 stars. on the other hand, i hate to suggest it's a triumph in it's own right when it's really more of a blueprint for a masterpiece to come. i'm still trying to make up my mind, but 3 stars feels safest on the whole.
interestingly, this wasn't the first time the arts approached the subject. in 1952 there was Battle Circus, starring Humphrey Bogart and June Allyson. it wasn't terribly well received, being marred by a mawkish (not to mention cliche) love story subplot. but it did indoctrinate anyone who chanced to see it as to the concept of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. in fact, they wanted to use the title M*A*S*H then, but studio muckety-mucks vetoed it. one exec was particularly worried people would assume it was "about a potato."
the premise got a second chance because one Dr. H. Richard Hornberger felt a parallel between the Vietnam War and his own experiences at a one of the original MASHes in Korea. (the original "Swamp" was his own home tent.) convinced to truncate his name to the snappier Richard Hooker, and aided by a sportswriter named W.C. Heinz, he collated his memories into a semi-memoir which, while not quite achieving perfection, certainly got the ball rolling.
the most striking differences tend to involve characters. not only do several of the 4077th's most memorable and endearing residents - Max Klinger, Col. Potter, BJ Hunnicutt, Nurse Kellye, Col. Flagg, Sidney Freedman, Major Winchester - not even exist yet, but the ones who do are often barely recognizable. Col. Henry Blake is a fuddy-duddy bureaucrat. Frank Burns appears for but a single chapter, and he's a mere captain. Radar O'Reilly, despite being the first person mentioned in the book, pretty much sits on the sidelines most of the time, given no chance to demonstrate the lovable naivety Gary Burghoff would bring to the part. his trademark borderline ESP (the source of his nickname) is about all there is to the character here. and "Hotlips" Houlihan, while certainly as gung-ho "regular army" as ever, is defeated a little too easily. unlike her tv counterpart played by Loretta Swit, this one is almost immediately stripped of her dignity. and because she still clings to her snobbery, she's ultimately just pitiful.
the hero doctors feel like they've been twisted inside out. here, and in the movie as played by Elliott Gould, "Trapper" John McIntyre is the charismatic one as well the MVP who gets appointed Chief Surgeon. quite the contrast to the tv series, where a hollow, watered-down Trapper was the least interesting character and/or weakest link in the chain.
as for the character who should've had those gifts, that's not the only part yet to come into focus. Hawkeye Pierce, whom tv viewers will remember as the girl-crazy only child of a widower, is described as married, having two sons, and having six brothers who apparently follow each other in and out of jail like some sort of time-share.
there's a third surgeon in the book, a textbook "good ol' boy" named Duke Forrest. not that he doesn't have his moments, but he's ultimately exactly what he seems like he would be: a Larry to Hawkeye and Trapper's Curly and Moe.
the most memorable character not to make the transition to tv is the resourceful dentist known as The Painless Pole. on the one hand he's well liked for his inventive (and probably hundred-proof) approach to anesthesia, as well as furnishing his office for the camp's perpetual poker game. more luridly, he's the local folk hero thanks a certain appendage that comes to be known as "The Pride Of Hamtramck" (his Michigan hometown). it's said that he's routinely espied in the shower just to make sure The Pride isn't a mere exaggeration.
just to get REALLY perverse, when it becomes imperative to keep Painless from committing suicide, a lot of people (all male) seem more concerned with preserving The Pride than the person.
(incidentally, he manages to carry on this "blue" tradition in the movie. as played by John Schuck, Painless became the first person ever to say a certain F-word in a major motion picture.)
the most surprising thing about the book is that it makes repeated visits to the gutter. take where Hawkeye describes himself as "hornier than a three-balled tomcat." the attitude isn't entirely out of character, but the words take it to another place entirely. it's frankly almost impossible to imagine Alan Alda in this gestational version of his signature role.
the surgery scenes, at least, have more or less mastered their own seriocomic element. at one point Hawkeye has to stick his finger into a wound like the little Dutch boy at the dike, because it starts to gush like Old Faithful. an attempt is made to clamp the wound, and they finally think they've got it but it turns out they've clamped the finger.
there's more i could say, but i think i've made my point. this book presents a promising concept that still needs some work. you don't have to take my work for it. even Robert Altman, director of the movie, described the book as "mostly terrible" and "somewhat racist" in spots. Altman overstates it a bit, but he's not quite wrong.
just how far removed, you ask, is the book from what the tv show became? it turns out that Dr. Hornberger quite passionately detested the show. he once said that by it's own terms, he was Frank Burns rather than Hawkeye Pierce. the man wasn't simply a staunch conservative, he epitomized the "regular army" type who's pomposity was such a frequent butt of the show's humor.
sorry to disillusion you.
i repeat, the book was better than i expected, but it's still not the definite article. after all, one can't help but ask, how interesting would this book be, really, if Hawkeye and Company hadn't managed to have adventures beyond it?
popular, and I came across it again while I was looking
for, The Dirty Dozen, and decided to read it one more time.
It indeed is the story that the hit TV show M*A*S*H was based
on, with of course some tweaks.
Sadly the Korean War, is always that "other war", that was never
resolved, and in reality has never ended.
And that has been never more obvious than in the last few years.
In the book, as in the TV show, the Dr's never let any one forget
that they are nothing more than "Draftees", and therefore just
"misplaced" civilians,put there on the Army Plan.
The book showed some disdain for Military Rules and Regs, but
not nearly as much as the TV show did in it's later years, but I
digress, and will get back to the book.
The book is an enjoyable read, as it was the first time I read it, lo
so many years ago.
And it does end about the same way as the TV show did, with everyone
saying, This was not fun, but we will keep in touch, when we get back home.
But as many of you that have been in situations like this know, that does not happen.
The Dr's in the book, end up taking different flights, in different directions, and their
Goodbyes are FINAL.
Enjoy a trip back in time.......
I read it twice and loved it as much the second time. Nothing boring in the whole book.
For parents, I would not recomend this book to children, like the movie and T.V show, it has some rather vulgar scenes, but nothing to severe. The writing style is very simple. There are few great descriptions or epic dialogues. However, because of the simple writing, this book is very easy to read and enjoy. All fans of MASH should read this wonderful book. You will never regretting discovering this wonderful addition to the 4077th. If you do not know much about MASH, this can still be a very enjoyable book. It is a simple and wonderfully entertaining read that any one will enjoy.