Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War - Karl Marlantes Review from 'audiobookfans' at Library Thing

This book is already getting a storm of media attention, mostly very favorable, so whatever I have to say will probably be somewhat redundant and won't matter much. But a book like Matterhorn DOES matter, and a helluva lot too! While the Vietnam war may have ended 35 years ago, its afereffects continue to resonate. And it seems even more relevant today with the U.S. embroiled in yet two more unwinnable wars - wars which go on and on with no end in sight. Why the hell can't America learn anything from history?!

In the early parts of the book, I thought Marlantes had bitten off more than he could chew, because he continues to introduce more and more characters, both men and officers, dozens of names. I struggled to try to keep them all straight - who was in which platoon and which officer was in charge? And the plethora of details and description - of the mud and blood and pus and sores and leeches etc. - threatened to literally drown the book in a sea of misery. And this was mostly without ever making contact with the nearly invisible enemy, the NVA or Viet Cong. But I stuck with it, and it all began to gradually make sense - or, perhaps better, the NONsense that is war. About three hundred pages in, Bravo Company finally made bloody contact with that elusive enemy and everything heated up and the narrative literally began to race along. The misery intensified and the wounded and dead began to pile up. Many of the those characters I'd struggled to keep straight simply fell away as casualties, and the circumstances of each was often enough to make you cry. One scene in particular, after a bloody offensive over one more mountain top, really hit home, as Marlantes noted in terse terms how everybody loses in this kind of a battle or war.

"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."

Scenes of young men, many of them former altar boys (and not so long ago either), reduced to savagery and despair are enough to break your heart and there are many such scenes here. Marlantes is a master storyteller. The stories here, unfortunately, are mostly horror stories, interspersed only rarely with moments of humor, but laced throughout with deeply felt feelings of brotherhood and humanity.

Matterhorn, while it is a uniquely special book, and one that obviously cried to be written, made up of feelings and memories that undoubtedly had haunted the author for over thirty years, brought to mind other stories of that awful war, some true, some fictional. I thought of The Thirteenth Valley by John DelVecchio, another fat novel of Vietnam, as well as one of the very first Vietnam War novels, William Pelfrey's The Big V. The latter novel is long out of print, but strongly deserves another look, as it bore strong similarities to another classic novel of war, The Red Badge of Courage. On the memoir side of the street, Robert Mason's Chickenhawk and Frederick Downs' The Killing Zone come to mind. The fact is there have been dozens, scores of books to come out of the Vietnam war in the past forty years. The fact that Karl Marlantes' new novel is getting so much attention as such a late entry is a testament to its power and eloquence. This is not just a book about the mess that was Vietnam. This is a book about the folly that is war. I will recommend Matterhorn highly