Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War
by Karl Marlantes, narrated by Bronson Pinchot, Blackstone Audio, April, 2010
Don’t miss this one!
Matterhorn is a memorable novel. Parts of it will stay in my head for a long, long time. It is the story of Waino Mellas, a newly minted Marine second lieutenant and the men of Bravo Company. Amazingly, the book covers only the first three months of Mellas’s thirteenth month tour in Vietnam. Mellas narrates the story. The writing is so authentic I had to keep reminding myself that is was a work of fiction. For those of us who thankfully have never had the experience of front line fighting in a war this novel could be as close as you will ever come to experiencing what these men experienced. Mellas is a great character- frightened, arrogant, brave, inexperienced, and in the end very likeable. Mellas matures through the three month time period into a leader of men. The other soldiers in the company take a while for their characters to develop but also are equally well crafted by the author.
Throughout most of the novel the North Vietnamese Army is not encountered, far more deadly to the men of Bravo Company are the dangers in the jungle, the hatred between black and white soldiers, the incompetence of the battalion leadership and the lack of good medical care and decent food. The few fighting scenes though are intense. This book does more to explain how men are able to overcome fear and give their lives to protect their friends than anything else I’ve read. In the scene I quote below Lt. Mellas is charging a protected grenade position.
“He ran because fate had placed him in a position of responsibility and he had accepted the burden. He ran because his self-respect required it. He ran because he loved his friends and this was the only thing he could do to end the madness that was killing and maiming them.”
Powerful writing! Throughout the book the author subtly brings out the pointless nature of this war. Armies did not fight to control territory but to inflict casualties and then inflate body counts. The dehumanization of the soldiers is strongly felt.
“The day was spent in weary stupefaction, hauling dead American teenagers to a stack beside the landing zone and dead Vietnamese teenagers to the garbage pit down the side of the north face.”
Throughout this novel I kept thinking of my friend Johnny, a Vietnam vet, dead too young from the effects of Agent Orange. What a life altering experience he must have had serving in the bush in that war. He never talked much about it and after reading this story I can understand why. If you weren't there it would be hard to believe. Thanks to the author for taking me "there".
Karl Marlantes a Vietnam era Marine wrote this book over the last 30 years. It’s his first novel and clearly his life’s work. We should all be able to tell a story this well. He captures it all – the horror, the courage, the cowardice, the camaraderie, the confusion, the exhilaration and the sorrow of war. Don’t miss this one!
I listened to an audio copy of this book read by the very talented Bronson Pinchot. I’d recommend listening to this one, while it was long I thought the narrator enriched the experience over what I would have felt just reading it.
I listened to an audio copy of this book borrowed from The Free Library of Philadelphia