Summary and book reviews of Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

Matterhorn

A Novel of the Vietnam War

By Karl Marlantes

Matterhorn
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2010,
    592 pages.
    Paperback: May 2011,
    640 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Book Summary

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. It is the timeless story of a young Marine lieutenant, Waino Mellas, and his comrades in Bravo Company, who are dropped into the mountain jungle of Vietnam as boys and forced to fight their way into manhood. Standing in their way are not merely the North Vietnamese but also monsoon rain and mud, leeches and tigers, disease and malnutrition. Almost as daunting, it turns out, are the obstacles they discover between each other: racial tension, competing ambitions, and duplicitous superior officers. But when the company finds itself surrounded and outnumbered by a massive enemy regiment, the Marines are thrust into the raw and all-consuming terror of combat. The experience will change them forever.

Written over the course of thirty years by a highly decorated Vietnam veteran, Matterhorn is a visceral and spellbinding novel about what it is like to be a young man at war. It is an unforgettable novel that transforms the tragedy of Vietnam into a powerful and universal story of courage, camaraderie, and sacrifice: a parable not only of the war in Vietnam but of all war, and a testament to the redemptive power of literature.

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. This is his first novel. He lives in rural Washington State.

Excerpt
Matterhorn

Mellas stood beneath the gray monsoon clouds on the narrow strip of cleared ground between the edge of the jungle and the relative safety of the perimeter wire. He tried to focus on counting the other thirteen Marines of the patrol as they emerged single file from the jungle, but exhaustion made focusing difficult. He also tried, unsuccessfully, to shut out the smell of the shit, which sloshed in the water that half-filled the open latrine pits above him on the other side of the wire. Rain dropped from the lip of his helmet,fell past his eyes, and spattered onto the satiny olive cloth that held the armor plating of his cumbersome new flak jacket. The dark green T-shirt and boxer shorts that his mother had dyed for him just three weeks ago clung to his skin, heavy and clammy beneath his camouflage utility jacket and trousers. He knew there would be leeches clinging to his legs, arms, back, and chest beneath his wet clothes, even though he couldn’t feel them now....

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Do you believe that Mallory’s headaches were real? Was he a "malingering coward"? Hawke agreed with Cassidy that he was a malingerer, but Mellas felt differently (maybe he was "out here too long"... they "kept sending him back" (p. 453). Why do you think Mellas felt that way? Was it political? China despised Mallory (p. 218) and wanted to tell him to act like a man, but he knew that the "headaches" would help him further his "cause." Did racial attitudes play a role in the treatment, analysis, and perception of the headaches?

  2. Mellas asks Hawke shortly after they meet whether he has "had racial problems here in the company." Hawke answers, "Naw...
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  • award image

    Indie Booksellers’ Choice Awards
    2011

Reviews

BookBrowse

While most people who read this book will never fight in a war, Marlantes allows his readers to come as close as possible to the experience. He does what only great authors can: truly put his audience in his characters' shoes. Readers will undoubtedly come away from Matterhorn with a new, better understanding of what it's like to be in battle under horrendous circumstances. This book is a must-read for anyone with an interest in war novels.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

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Media Reviews
The Washington Post - David Masiel

In some ways Matterhorn isn't new at all, but it reminds us of the horror of all war by laying waste to romantic notions and napalming the cool factor of video games and "Generation Kill."

USA Today

Marlantes doesn't tell a new story, and his characters often fit the proverbial war-story stereotypes. But he pitches us into a harrowing narrative we won't soon forget.

The Los Angeles Times

Mellas and his fellow Marines try to create their own meaning out of sorrow and memory and the traditions of the Corps. They turn inward and refuse to see that the antiwar movement has its own brand of courage and idealism. Even today, Marlantes seems to view the protesters as little more than rich kids hiding behind their deferments. It's a notable blind spot in a morally and psychologically sophisticated novel that does so many other things so well.

Booklist

This tough, unsentimental saga is filled with frightened men; most endure and achieve a certain nobility in spite of themselves. An engrossing chronicle of men at war.

Kirkus Reviews

Readable and well written, though not quite in the class of Tim O'Brien, Philip Caputo, Michael Herr, Robert Stone and other top-flight literary chroniclers of the war in Vietnam.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Marlantes’s debut may be daunting in length, but it remains a grand, distinctive accomplishment.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Obviously not a brief, cheery read, this is a major work that will be a valuable addition to any permanent collection.

The New York Times Book Review - Sebastian Junger

Matterhorn is a raw, brilliant account of war that may well serve as a final exorcism for one of the most painful passages in American history.

Author Blurb on Stallworthy, Editor, The Oxford Book of War Poetry
Matterhorn is a terrific, towering novel. Marine Lieutenant Marlantes does for the Vietnam War what Lieutenant Sassoon did for the war in Flanders; what Sergeant Mailer did for the war in the Pacific; what Tenente Hemingway did for the war in Italy.

Author Blurb Mackubin Owens, Associate Dean, US Naval War College
Matterhorn is a powerful work of literature and a tribute to those who fought and died at the end of the line.

Author Blurb Christina Robb, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist
I have never read a war novel, outside of War and Peace, that created such a living, breathing hologram of all sides of any war.

Reader Reviews
Barbara C.

Powerful!
"Matterhorn" is not what I would normally pick up and read, but I'm sure glad I did cause this is the benchmark that I will judge all 2010 books. I suspect that this superbly written and very powerful novel will be one that stays with me ...   Read More

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The United States Marine Corps

The United States Marine Corps (USMC) serves as a force-in-readiness within the United States security structure. Among other branches of the US military, it is unique in its ability to rapidly deploy a combined-arms task force to almost anywhere in the world within days. It is capable of entry into hostile or dangerous situations from the air, land and sea.

At its core, the group has always remained grounded in its genesis as an infantry unit, and this has made it different from other branches of the military. It continues to rely on mobile personnel versus advanced weaponry. Each Marine is trained as a gunman, regardless of position or area of responsibility, and each officer is trained as an infantry platoon commander. This ...

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