Thoughts and Inspiration for Creative Writers

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MATTERHORN–Book Review–Vietnam War

Posted on | May 26, 2010 | 2 Comments

MATTERHORN: A Novel of the Vietnam War (Karl Marlantes)

The description of the novel on Kindle (yes, I have one) is as follows: “Intense, powerful, and compelling. MATTERHORN is an epic war novel in the tradition of Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead and James Jones’s The Thin Red Line.”

That sums it up. I couldn’t do better. I’m about 2/3 of the way through, and I can’t put it down. Riveting is the relationship between the decision-makers and the soldiers in the field (make that jungle and a small mountain they are commanded to defend). Commanders make decisions based on what their superiors want to hear. How many gooks have been killed. Interrupting ammunition and supply lines. Regaining control of that damn hill. Anything that makes them look good despite the consequences to the men out there.

For example, at one point the men have not been resupplied for a week. They are starving, almost out of ammunition, medical supplies, water. They try to capture condensation on their ponchos from the surrounding fog. The higher-ups could give a shit! Recapture the hill. Do this do that, though it will cost the lives of half the troops! That’s what fascinates me. That they would sacrifice their men simply to advance their military careers, and they make these decisions from the safety and comfort of the bases miles removed from the grunts. They smoke, they drink fine whiskey, they converse, check maps, and send out orders. “Fucking do it!”

I admit I’m a bit obsessed with the Vietnam War. It was my war. I protested and fought with state troopers and city police screaming for the US to get out. What I did not understand was the soldiers’ suffering. The horrible conditions they had to fight in. The devastation, deprivation, and the sadness.  I lumped the soldiers in with the military/govt conducting the war. As if the men wanted to be there. I must have been daft. The draft was in effect. Most soldiers, or at least many, many, were there against their will.

The man who wrote the book–Karl Marlantes–was there. He fought and afterwards sat down and typed a novel based on his experiences. He tried to sell it 30 years ago, but no publisher bought it. Thank God they finally saw value in it and someone had the sense to publish it. Though I suppose the time factor has something to do with it. Thirty years ago with the war in the recent past, it was too close, and people may not have bought it. Waiting 30 years, on the other hand, was too long.

As if you couldn’t tell, this book gets five stars from me. It’s terrific. If anyone wants to understand that war, and likely many wars, it’s a must read.

p.s. My next book is Sebastian Junger’s non-fiction WAR. Recently, I had a chance to hear him speak at Politics & Prose here in DC, and he was terrific. This one is about our war in Afghanistan, where he spent five months with the soldiers in a remote valley. Check out the reviews, they are fantastic.


2 Responses to “MATTERHORN–Book Review–Vietnam War”

  1. Tupiq
    October 3rd, 2015 @ 5:58 pm

    Caroline, Marlantes points our that, in the past, sdoriels had some decompression, downtime before they returned home. They were eased into civilian and domestic life…nowadays, it is impossible for sdoriels to separate the two distinct parts of their lives. They are forever changed by warfare and unable to let it go because it becomes such a part of their everyday existence, completed blended in with their family life in a very destructive way.

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