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Matterhorn

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A big, powerful saga of men in combat, written over the course of thirty-five years by a highly decorated Vietnam veteran.

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.

663 pages, Paperback

First published March 23, 2010

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About the author

Karl Marlantes

4 books576 followers
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. He is the author of Matterhorn, which won the William E. Colby Award given by the Pritzker Military Library, the Center For Fiction's Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, the 2011 Indies’ Choice Award for Adult Debut Book of the Year and the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation’s James Webb Award for Distinguished Fiction. He lives in rural Washington.

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Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 2 books247k followers
October 27, 2019
"Just below the grim tranquillity Mellas had learned to display, he cursed with boiling intensity the ambitious men who used him and his troops to further their careers. He cursed the air wing for not trying to get any choppers in through the clouds. He cursed the diplomats arguing about round and square tables. He cursed the South Vietnamese making money off the black market. He cursed the people back home gorging themselves in front of their televisions. Then he cursed God. Then there was no one else to blame and he cursed himself for thinking God would give a shit".

2nd Lieutenant Mellas, an Ivy League graduate, finds himself in Vietnam commanding a platoon. The officers have been thinned out so severely that the Company Commander is a 1st Lieutenant and the Executive Officer is a 2nd Lieutenant. Both positions are normally held by much more senior officers. He has Corporals that have survived a couple of tours in the jungle and at the tender age of 19 are now crusty veterans. He is 22 and being asked to fight a war with babies in fatigues. He worships bush Marines decked out with non-regulation mustaches, dreadlocks, and boots so scuffed they are white. His head is spinning with desires for medals and proving his courage under fire. He is beset by doubts about his abilities, and yet wants to do more than just survive. He wants to be successful.

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The Author receiving his Bronze Star

As the chapters flip by we really get to see Mellas evolve as a person. As he sheds his state side training and becomes a real marine leader I actually started to like him. More important his men started to respect him. As he experiences more combat and loses men he starts to understand the politics of the war. That change from being concerned about his own future to understanding the futility of the circumstances in Vietnam is a shattering experience for him. Colonel Mulvaney his Regimental Commander expresses his own jaded views about the war.

"America uses us like whores. When it wants a good fuck it pours in the money and we give it a moment of glory. Then when it's over, it sneaks out the back door and pretends it doesn't know who we are. Yeah we are whores, he continued, almost to himself now. I admit it. But we're good ones. We're good at fucking. We like our work. So the customer gets ashamed afterward. So hypocrisy's always been part of the profession. We know that. But this time the customer doesn't want to fuck. He wants to play horsy and come in through the back door. And he's riding us around the room with a fucking bridle and whip and spurs. Mulvaney shook his head. We ain't good at that. It turns our stomach. And it's destroying us."

The cynicism was certainly understandable when success is measured in body counts, blood trails, and probable kills. They would capture ground and then pull out to let the NVA move back in just so they would have a chance to kill more enemy combatants. It was really a fucked up way to run a war.

'Just tell me where the gold is.'
'Gold?'
'Yes, the gold, the fucking gold, or the oil, or uranium. Something Jesus Christ, something out there for us to be here. Just anything, then I'd understand it. Just some fucking gold so it all makes sense.'


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Marine 1967 running under enemy fire.


The tension between the splibs (black combatants) and the chucks (white combatants)usually became a bigger issue during down times between combat missions. Marlantes, I felt, told both sides of the race issue with an even hand. He even took us into the decision making sessions of the officers further up the chain, giving the reader a view of the pressures they were receiving and the unorthodox ways they were forced to measure success. Objectives were not clear even higher up the chain of command. The pain, the misery, the waste that are endemic in all wars was even harder to withstand in Vietnam.

Helicopters were the life blood of this war and when they couldn't fly for several days food, water, and ammunition became scarce and boys were left to die. It was hard at times for me to read about the circumstances and the unrealistic expectations we had for combat troops in Vietnam coupled with the haphazard supply lines we had in place to give them the basics of what they needed to even do their job. At one point in time the troops go eight days without food and are expected to withstand an enemy assault.

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Redefining victory in Vietnam was a theme of this novel. The men who fought in this war deserve our gratitude and our apology. They were not treated with the honor and the dignity befitting warriors returning from a war that many worked very hard to avoid and were frankly smart to do so. The combat soldiers in Vietnam could not win the war. They could not win battles like the Battle of Normandy or the Battle of the Bulge. They did not return to America knowing that they made the world a safer place. They took the same risks as the soldiers of world war two with so much less to be gained.

"Victory in combat is like sex with a prostitute. For a moment you forget everything in the sudden physical rush, but then you have to pay your money to the woman showing you the door. You see the dirt on the walls and your sorry image in the mirror."

Marlantes took thirty years to write this novel. He was awarded the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals for valor, two Purple Hearts, and ten air medals, so he wasn't in the rear somewhere as part of the supply train. I feel like I know much, much more about the Vietnam war than what I have gleaned from other novels or histories. Marlantes takes you into the elephant grass, with leeches hanging from your legs, and jungle rot oozing pus from the cuts on your hands. If you didn't question our objectives in Vietnam and more recently our objectives in Afghanistan and Iraq you will after reading this book. We have to know that when we are sacrificing our kids that it is for the right reasons. They are not and never should be just numbers on a board. Highly Recommended!

 photo KarlMarlantes.jpg
The Author in Vietnam

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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Profile Image for Lyn.
1,845 reviews16.3k followers
February 6, 2018
“Boot camp did not make us killers, it was just a f****** finishing school.”

Grim. Heartbreaking. There were sections of this book that, honest to God, were difficult to read. If you cannot read war novels, don’t even pick it up. If you are made uncomfortable by vivid descriptions of suffering and of overwhelming human endurance, do not read this book. If out of touch and passionless bureaucratic polices that result in needless hurt anger you, then stay far away. If brilliantly illustrated characterizations of incompetent, careerist, wannabe politician, couldn’t-lead-a-trip-to-the-zoo overpaid and over privileged senior governmental “leaders” makes you want to drop off the grid and go live in a cabin in the woods – well, you get the point. This book inspires strong emotion.

With imagery that reminds me of the writing of Peter Matthiessen, and with brutally honest and realistically complex characterizations that would make Jonathan Franzen proud, author Karl Marlantes has crafted a fictional novel that breathes with life and that tells the good, the bad, and the ugly of a difficult time. Transcending simply a war novel about Vietnam, Marlantes lucidly describes how the military, and the war itself, shaped our society. Matterhorn deals with race relations, class distinctions and the relationship a citizen has with his government in a stirring, but painfully sublime morality play that realistically communicates a time and place but, more than that, paints a striking, and often uncomplimentary, portrait of who we are.

Himself a decorated Vietnam veteran Marine, Marlantes has also illustrated a description of his service that, though it objectively deals with the governmental and bureaucratic failings of the Corps, also offers a glimpse into what it means to be semper fidelis; though he states succinctly that a true understanding is unattainable for the rest of us. I have an uncle who served two tours of duty in Vietnam as a Marine, very proud of him, and I have more than once been impressed by the Marines.

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Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews67.8k followers
April 25, 2021
Martyrs for Language

It is unlikely that indentured slaves were worked as hard as grunt Marines in Vietnam. Certainly not with as little to show for it. The sociology that kept these men from escaping entirely through drugs or killing their officer-oppressors is complex - a mix of fear of authority, comradeship, exhausted inertia and the vague hope that their suffering might end without death. Patriotism, revenge, and military pride didn’t register on the meter of soldierly motivations.

Officers, that class of person whom the military suspects might be human, are ambitious prats. The young ones want medals; the older ones want rank and larger commands. Few of them have much regard for the lives of those who report to them. Their main concerns are recognition and reputation. As in most corporate hierarchies, they progress proportionately to their political skill not their competence.

Within the permanent class warfare between officers and enlisted in ‘The Corps,’ other intense battles are waged continuously - between the whites and the blacks, staff and line, liberals and racists, new boys and old hands, short-timers and those who dare not count the days left, lifers and draftees, malingerers and hard men, the weak and the strong, the literate and the unschooled. Occasional shooting and fear eases the tensions but never resolves them.

The politics among officers is simpler: Be noticed; never contradict a superior; have faith in the language of command. This latter includes the idolatry of maps, situation reports, body counts, radio protocols, intelligence estimates, and plans of attack and defence. An officer’s world is entirely symbolic as soon as he is given any unit command whatsoever. This is what he is trained for. Reality is only known by the grunts and no one asks them about it. Unfortunately only they know that the map is not the territory.

One of the important innovations of the Vietnamese War was so-called air mobility, the capacity to move large numbers of fighters quickly to remote places. What the military failed to understand at the time was that it was easier to move the men than to keep them supplied with the essentials of life (and for that matter, death). Despite the rather well-stocked commissaries for those in the rear, front-line troops literally starved when they couldn’t be supplied by air... or were just forgotten about. The language of intimidatory command doesn’t work on technology and other objects like it does on human beings.

The involvement of the United States in Vietnam was a military and moral tragedy. But not primarily because of defeat and the atrocities committed routinely by American soldiers. The tragedy already existed in the military and its ethos before VietNam. And it continues to exist today. This ethos is one of exploitation of the young by the old. The old sacrifice the young for the sake of symbols and through symbols that mask personal interests. Everything else is collateral damage. This is the essence of military life.

The dead and wounded are, therefore, only one consequence of this sacrificial ethos. Those, like the Marines in Matterhorn, who are exposed to its full force never recover. And it is passed on like a virulent virus from generation to generation. Their memory of suffering produces yet more symbology for which to sacrifice yet more young people. Matterhorn is a chronicle of how symbols not bullets are used to dominate and destroy human beings.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,855 reviews1,884 followers
March 18, 2014
Rating: 5* of five, but it deserves six

Newly Tarted Up Review! I...well...honestly, I have no idea what word to use to describe how I feel about MATTERHORN by Karl Marlantes. It's a superlative book, no adjectives need apply. I gave it five stars because that's the scale...but it deserves six.

Moved to my blog.
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,388 reviews6,647 followers
August 27, 2016
Today I’ll be reviewing Matterhorn, a novel about the Vietnam war. Play your favorite classic rock song of the era while reading. Buffalo Springfield’s For What’s It’s Worth is always a popular choice. You could use Credence Clearwater’s Fortunate Son. For myself, I'll be listening to The End from The Doors and then plan on going into a full-on Martin Sheen-Apocalypse Now-freak-out as I lay on a bed staring up at the ceiling fan in a pair of tidy whiteys until I drink enough to punch out a mirror and then break down crying.

I’ll admit that I didn’t really think there were any more stories to tell about Vietnam that I hadn‘t heard. As a teenager in the ‘80s when every male action hero from Thomas Magnum to Sonny Crockett was supposedly a ‘Nam vet, and movies like Platoon and Full Metal Jacket were coming out regularly, I just didn’t think there was a scenario that someone could come up with that hadn’t been done to death. Plus, I used to have a neighbor who was a Vietnam vet who would tell me some hair-raising stories when he got a few beers in him that had the ring of authenticity that even grittiest fictional stories can’t convey.

But Matterhorn had a lot of good buzz about it so I finally picked it up. I got worried in the first chapter where there‘s a lot concerning leeches in the jungle. There wasn’t anything there that I hadn’t seen on film or read dozens of time before. Until one of the Marines discover that a leech crawled inside his penis. That’s when I realized that Karl Marlantes may be doing a story in a familiar setting, but he had the knowledge and ability to make it horrible and fresh all over again.

Marlantes is a decorated Marine Vietnam veteran with a chest full of medals. He spent 30 years (30 years!) writing this story off and on before finally getting it published. The story centers on a company of Marines circa 1969 with a young and ambitious lieutenant named Mellas taking over a rifle platoon in Bravo Company as soon as he arrives.

Mellas may be inexperienced, but he could turn into a good officer. He’s got skills with maps and a feel for terrain and tactics, but his political instincts may keep him from being an effective combat leader. Mellas and the Marines are trying to fortify a mountaintop position called Matterhorn and patrol the surrounding thick jungle. Between jungle illnesses and always being exhausted from the patrols, night watches and the hard labor of establishing the camp, the Marines are stretched thin. Racial tensions in the company aren’t helping anything.

But things get much worse when drunken battalion commander Simpson and his manipulative operations officer Blakely decide to use Bravo to try and locate NVA forces they’re sure are in the area of Matterhorn. Simpson sends Bravo out on long jungle recons when they’re dangerously under-supplied and exhausted and when bad weather prevents helicopters from reaching them. When Bravo can’t meet his aggressive timetable, Simpson simply demands more of them and labels them as whining malcontents, and eventually Marines start dying because of the orders that Simpson is issuing.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything that infuriated and angered me as much as Simpson and Blakely’s treatment of Bravo Company. I spent most of this book hoping that some of the Marines will make good on their threat to frag the two asshole officers.

Marlantes’s 30 years work on this really paid off. While Vietnam stories may have become somewhat clichéd, he’s managed to craft a story that transcends all the slang and trivia we’ve become acquainted with. His Mellas character is probably a bit of a Mary Sue, but considering Marlantes’s background and time spent on this novel, it didn’t bother me a bit.

My only complaint is that some of the parts concerning the racial tensions do seem hokey in places. There’s one part where Mellas has a conversation with one of his black Marines, and it comes across as earnestly sincere as one of those old After School Specials. Only with guns and saying, “fuck’ a lot.

All in all, this is a terrific war novel that’ll tear your heart out as it teaches you something new about Vietnam. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to do some drinking and stare at my ceiling fan. This is the end…
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,197 followers
September 12, 2014
I was in the shit. Karl Marlantes put me there.

Matterhorn is a deep and penetrating look within the Vietnam War. It's the sort of horribly realistic novel that can only be reproduced by the survivor of an atrocity.

Highly decorated Vietnam War veteran Karl Marlantes had been at work on this book since the war ended. If you ever need an example of an artistic project into which the artist has poured his blood, sweat and tears, you can point to Matterhorn.

The book follows 2nd Lieutenant Mellas, a squeaky clean Ivy League kid who signs up and intentionally gets himself stuck in with the grunts, the high school flunkies who make up the front line fodder. Mellas wants to be one of the boys. He also secretly longs for medals and promotion. His desires and inexperience could get him killed. It could get a lot of boys killed and the boys don't like that.

Matterhorn is not all doom and gloom from beginning to end. I doubt I would've finished it if it were. No, Marlantes does an excellent job in building the tension. He starts things off light. There is levity through out in its proper place. Then the trouble is escalated. The tension is tightened. You feel the frustration, elation, despair...hope.

I hesitated to read this. After all, wasn't it enough that I'd seen Platoon and Full Metal Jacket? Vietnam is a sad chapter in history. Did I really want to revisit it? However, word on the street was persistent: this is great, don't miss this. I'm glad I didn't give it a miss. And neither should you.
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,016 reviews552 followers
September 4, 2022
I listened to this on audiobook, competently read by the ever reliable Jeff Harding. It’s quite long, at over 22 hours, but it’s such a compelling story I’d have been happy to spend longer in its company.

I'd read some background to the Vietnam war but was really quite sketchy on the detail surrounding the political background and even more so on details of the conflict itself. I've subsequently read up a little more on the political element but was directed to this novel as a vehicle that would give me a ‘feel’ for the war and for the men who fought in it. I think it does that – in fact I believe it does it very well indeed.

Written by a decorated Marine, the book tracks Bravo Company as they are tasked to undertake a number of scouting and combat missions, all of dubious value and under extremely challenging conditions. It is set in and around Matterhorn, a mythical hilltop firebase close to the Laotian border. The reader is introduced to a large cast of soldiers of varying ranks. There is violence (obviously) and there is the expected bravery and camaraderie of war, but there are also elements I didn't expect to find in such abundance, such as evident racial tensions, decisions being driven by the selfish ambition of senior officers and the way in which missions were declared either a success of a failure based on the body count score alone.

It’s a very impactful piece and several times it almost reduced me to tears. It all felt so real, with the combat sections in particular being described in such a convincing way that I genuinely felt I was there witnessing the brutality, the panic, the fear and the agony of it all.

This is, in fact, a stunning book. There were times when the sheer size of the cast felt daunting, but this feeling didn't last. As it progressed I got to identify with the lead players, worrying for their safety and rooting for them as they went into battle. It’s an emotional roller coaster but one I'd encourage others to experience.
Profile Image for Em Lost In Books.
843 reviews1,683 followers
November 18, 2020
After almost dropping this after first two chapters, am glad I stick to it because it was so rewarding in the end. Just a glimpse (because I know there will be millions of other stories that didn't make it to print) of what soldiers endure in a war to serve their country, it just gutted me. The pain, the courage, and the valor, no words can praise them enough.
Profile Image for Michelle.
811 reviews73 followers
April 25, 2011
This is the best book I've read so far in 2010. I will say that again: This is the best book I've read so far in 2010.

I received Matterhorn from Powell's (Indiespensable #17, a wedding present, I decided) and avoided it for a while, busy with other books, and honestly, looking at it with trepidation because of its considerable size and content. I don't think I've ever read a book about the Vietnam War--would I understand it, I wondered, would it hold my interest? And I didn't understand and it didn't hold my interest for about the first 150 pages. There were too many men, too many military terms, I wasn't sure if I liked the main character Mellas, I had nothing to hold on to. It was just me, Mellas, and a bunch of dudes hanging out on a mountain, digging some holes, thinking about not dying. Then the story picks up. I do think, though I haven't read anything about it, that the author did this on purpose. Mellas, fresh to the field, was also settling in, getting to know the guys, the lingo, the War. Mellas and the readers really settle in during the Trail of Tears op. The men all work together and suffer together and you start to get IT. There are battles. Men do die. Men you HATE to see die, do die (and I don't consider that a spoiler because, hey, this is the Vietnam War, people). But they also laugh (I especially love any part where any man giggles during the book, usually while drunk, maybe on a mystery tour with his buddies). We see these men (boys, really) fight against each other (the racial tensions being especially interesting). We see these men fight with each other against their enemy. And we see these men fight FOR each other. This book...it was haunting and it was heartbreaking and I will never forget it. I sat for a long time after finishing, with my hand on my heart, terribly sad, and wanting to read more.
August 6, 2022
Very minor potential spoiler.

For about a year in 1978 and 1979, I was with Golf Battery, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines. Those of you who know much about the Marine Corps are probably saying, “Bullshit!” right now because you know that 1/4 is an infantry, not an artillery, battalion. At that time, Golf Battery 3/12 was attached to 1/4, which was on independent duty at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twenty-Nine Palms, CA. Anyway, that was my first duty assignment after completing training at The Basic School in Quantico, VA and Field Artillery School at Ft. Sill, OK. I started out as the Forward Observer for Bravo Company, during which time I was acting Platoon Commander for one of their platoons during Mountain Warfare training in Bridgeport, CA. I also served as Fire Support Coordinator for the battalion during the time we were developing desert warfare tactics and doctrine during the Iran Hostage Crisis. Why do I start a book review with this kind of personal info? Because Karl Marlantes served with Charlie Company 1/4 when he was in Viet Nam, and that’s my indirect connection with him.

My direct connection occurred about three years ago, when I ran a toy soldier store in Old Town Albuquerque. One Saturday afternoon, I was sitting in the store enjoying the weather and watching the tourists wander around, when a couple in their sixties or seventies came in. She started looking at the toy soldiers while he went straight to the wall of military books we had on the back wall of the store. When she moved on to the other stores on our patio, the husband came over to the counter behind which I was sitting and asked if we had any copies of Matterhorn. I told him we didn’t, but that I’d read it several months prior and had liked it a lot. He then stuck out his hand and introduced himself as Karl Marlantes. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to chat very long because his wife came back and reminded him of some event they were going to be late for.

I grew up with the Vietnam war, but my experience of it was all indirect. I was a high school senior when U.S. military involvement ended in 1973 and a sophomore at the Naval Academy when Saigon fell in 1975. From elementary school through high school, I remember the reports from the war or from anti-war protests on the nightly news. I remember the POW/MIA bracelets that many of my classmates wore. The father of a high school friend was an Air Force MIA. I remember hearing on the radio in my high school cafeteria about the My Lai massacre. I learned at the Naval Academy and at The Basic School from Marine officers who had experienced combat in Vietnam. I had Vietnam vets as mentors of a sort when I was with 1/4. Battalion commander, Lt. Col. “Bull” Mehan, encouraged me to write more after reading a pamphlet I put together to train infantry officers to more effectively use artillery support. I learned from the battalion S-3 officer, Maj. Barnes, that the best way to carry C-rats while one patrol was in your stomach…keep the crackers to munch on, but eat the rest before you head out. My best mentor was the battalion XO, Maj. Bob Tilley who was a bit of a Chesty Puller look-alike. He transferred from Supply to Infantry after he got to Vietnam. His new company commander gave him a platoon, but made him walk point and follow the direction of his Platoon Sergeant until he proved he was good enough to handle an infantry platoon. He was wounded twice. The second time the Commandant of the Marine Corps happened to be touring the field hospital when he was brought in and awarded him a battlefield promotion to Captain because they thought his wound was mortal. Major Tilley and I spent a lot of time together bouncing around the desert in an Amtrak while the battalion developed desert warfare tactics.

My other indirect experience of Vietnam is through the memoirs and memoir-like novels of the war that I’ve read over the years. These include A Rumor of War , Dispatches , We Were Soldiers Once... and Young: Ia Drang - The Battle that Changed the War in Vietnam , The Things They Carried , Flight of the Intruder , Body Count , and Fields of Fire . As good as those have been, Matterhorn is the best I’ve read. It’s as much a memoir as it is a novel, and reading it was like talking to one of my former instructors or mentors. Marlantes gets far more into the daily grime and boredom and loneliness and stress and backbreaking work and terror of life…and death…in Vietnam than did those I learned from, but that’s what makes this such an important work for anyone interested in what that war did to the generation who fought it. No punches are pulled in his portrayal of the good and the bad experienced by him and everyone whose life was forever changed by Vietnam. I’ve always held tigers in awe. Their “I’m going to do unspeakable things to your body…and then I’m going to eat you” look has always attracted and repelled me at the same time. The tiger scene in the book…which is apparently based on an actual event…confirmed that level of respect and fear of them. The rest of the book is equally effective in evoking respect for the men who fought that war and fear for the safety…physical and emotional…of those who have, do, and will fight our wars for us. Everyone should read this book at least once, regardless of how hard some of the subject matter will be to get through. Outlooks would change if everyone understood what our freedoms have cost those who secure them for us.
Profile Image for Michelle, the Bookshelf Stalker.
596 reviews358 followers
September 9, 2022
Imagine my surprise when I wanted to read Matterhorn. I mean, come on, don’t I get enough “war” on tv? I guess not.

Imagine my delight when Matterhorn turned out to be much more than a “war” book. It turned out to be much more than a “Vietnam” book. It turned out to be much more than a “guy” book. It turned out to be one of my favorite books of all time.

As my employees always point out, I am a big book cheerleader and I have a tendency to push my favorites on them (like they have a choice, I AM their boss..hehe). However, I am hesitant to share Matterhorn with anyone. I don’t want to hear bad things about the book. I feel as though I’d be personally offended. How can anyone not love the book I couldn’t stop reading (ok, technically listening to)? How can anyone not feel their heart break in half when a favorite character’s survival is questionable? I’m a bit protective of books I simply adore and it is weird to say I adored a book set in Vietnam with a ton of graphic violence, racism, politics, disease and death. Nevertheless, I simply adored it.

Why I loved this book?

I became completely and totally invested in each and every character. Marlantes made me love and/or hate his characters so completely that I felt a profound loss when the book was over. When a reader can have that type of relationship with the characters in a book, the book is unforgettable, and beautiful, in my opinion (of course).

How invested was I?


I was like a zombie (of course, I’d pick zombie). I would stand in my kitchen and wash the same dish over and over again just so I could listen to a bit more of the audiobook.

Don’t tell my family but I even resorted to driving around my block just so I wouldn’t reach my driveway after work. I could not stop listening to this audiobook. And before I forget….

Do you remember Balki from Perfect Strangers?


He is the narrator!

Now before you laugh too hard, I must admit that I triple-checked my audiobook to make sure Bronson Pinchot was indeed the narrator of MY audiobook. Because the guy narrating my audiobook sure didn’t sound like Balki. Instead, he was an incredible narrator. All the voices were distinct, and I had no trouble understanding one voice from another even though the cast of characters was big!
Now back to the story

The book has many graphic, violent scenes.Why am I telling you this? Because it is what it is and I don’t want someone to start to read it and stop reading due to the violence. Remember, I am very protective of this book. The book is full of military terminology and can be confusing. Why am I telling you this? Again, if you know what to expect, you won’t shut the book when you come across it.

Whatever you do, don’t give up on the terminology and confusing parts. It took me three chapters to finally “get it” and after that, I was right along with platoon commander Mellas when he was lying on the wet jungle floor hoping that the Viet Cong couldn’t hear his shallow breath. I was cheering when Hawk gave his J Hawk salute or worried about China when I finally realized he was a nice guy.

This is NOT a book about a war.
This is NOT a book about Vietnam.
This is NOT a book about politics.
It IS a book about growing up.
It IS a book about unity.
It IS a book about sacrifice.
It IS a book about loss.
It IS a book about discovering what is important and what you can and cannot live without.

Update (October 11)- I'm pissed. This audiobook has ruined all other audiobooks for me. Nothing has been good since listening to Matterhorn. Damn great book!
Profile Image for Monica.
573 reviews611 followers
November 18, 2019
Better than expected! An engrossing story that comes across as authentic. So good!! rtf

4.5 Stars

Listened to on Audible. Bronson Pinchot is an amazing narrator!
Profile Image for Matt.
899 reviews27.9k followers
April 27, 2016
At the beginning of Citizens, Simon Schama's account of the French Revolution, Schama tells of former Chinese Premier Zhou En-lai's response to a question asking what the Revolution meant. Zhou En-lai was reputed to have said: "It is too soon to tell." That's how I feel about the Vietnam War.

My passion for history is, in my own estimation, above average. I read about it, I write about it, and I visit the locales, all with a certain fervor that will probably be well-detailed in my wife's court filings for divorce. I have my favorite subjects, my favorite time periods, but I'm not ashamed to be a something of a dilettante. The one area I've mostly avoided, however? America's Southeast Asian excursion.

Quite simply, it's too early to try to make history out of Vietnam (in the same way it WAY too early to try to make history out of Iraq and Afghanistan). The ground is still unstable; the wounds are still too raw. In order to create good history, you have to be dispassionate, and that's not possible with Vietnam. It's too controversial. It killed almost 60,000 Americans and a million Vietnamese. It was the focal point of a near civil war. There is a generation of still-living Americans who went to Vietnam, believed they did the right thing, and came home to a scornful county. And there is a generation of still-living Americans who were drafted into Vietnam, believed they were sent there by a negligent government, and came home rueing the lost years of their lives.

Like I said, it's too soon.

That said, my odd little reading secret is a childhood addiction to Vietnam novels. These books comprise their own sizeable sub-genre in the war novel canon. Here, a comparison is in order.

The most famous books to come out of World War II - written by the likes of Norman Mailer and James Jones - were self-consciously important. They embraced big themes, themes so universal that the war became a backdrop for a discussion of Man, Nature, and War.

Vietnam novels are different. They are almost all written by vets, with a grunt's eye view of the action. Most of them - based on an informal survey of my memory - use the same basic ingredients: 1. Start with a platoon; 2. Populate said platoon with a young, all-American lieutenant fresh from West Point and new to the bush; a point man of Indian or Hispanic origin who has almost an almost supernatural attentiveness to nature; a black soldier to remind the reader of racial strife; a redneck soldier to be the foil for the black soldier; and at least one soldier who is a little too-excited to be carrying a weapon. 3. Send the platoon and its roster of stereotypes on a long-range patrol. 4. Have them battle against overwhelming odds. 5. Publish.

The books following this template range from classic or near-classic to blood-and-thunder pulp. (See James Webb's Fields of Fire, John Del Vecchio's The 13th Valley, Franklin Allan Lieb's The Fire Dream, and Leonard B. Scott's The Expendables, The Hill, The Last Run, and Charley Mike). To varying degrees, these works touch on the explosive politics of America's involvement in Vietnam - whether this was a worthwhile war, a winnable war. To a book, though, they celebrate the bonds that grow between men at war.

Karl Marlantes' Matterhorn is a kind of hybrid between the "important" World War II novel and the archetypal "small-unit on a mission" Vietnam War novel. It owes a debt to Mailer, and to Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried (which it consciously mimics at several points), but also to those lower brow, pulpier novels, with their focus on the thrill of battle.

The focus of Matterhorn is a platoon in Bravo Company. To the extent it has a main character, there is Lieutenant Waino Mellas, a young, inexperienced officer who went to Princeton and joined the reserves (we're not reinventing the wheel here). While we begin the story with Mellas, and are introduced to the frightening, confusing world of Vietnam along with him, Mellas shares equal page time with a dozen other featured players. In this way, Matterhorn shares a lot with Mailer's The Naked and the Dead. The characters range up and down the chain of command: there is Colonel Mulvaney, the humanist Korean War vet; Lieutenant Colonel Simpson, the uncaring opportunist; Major Blakely, the sychophantic operations officer; Lieutenant Goodwin, the hunt-minded leader of another of Bravo's platoon; Vancouver, the point man who carries a sawed off machine gun; China, a black revolutionary; and Sergeant Cassidy, the chief racist. If this seems a lot, there are many, many more. But don't worry, the book includes a helpful organizational flow chart (and it also has maps!)

The set-up of Matterhorn is a bit of Catch-22-like dark comedy. Bravo Company occupies a hill, codenamed Matterhorn. They dig trenches and build bunkers. Once they finish the fortifications, they are ordered off the hill and into the jungle. After walking fruitlessly around for several weeks, they are ordered back to Matterhorn. There, they discover the Vietnamese have occupied their old positions. Of course, they are ordered to attack.

In premise, this is not groundbreaking. The plot too-obviously makes the point that war is deranged and futile, and that Vietnam in particular was a vicious game of whack-a-mole. (While reading this, I couldn't help but think of parallels to the film Hamburger Hill, in which a platoon assaults a hill at great cost, and then immediately abandons it. It stars Dylan McDermott...yeah, that Dylan McDermott). If you fail to miss it, though, Marlantes gets more explicit:

So the one probable became a fact. Fitch radioed it in to battalion. Major Blakely...claimed it for the battalion as a confirmed, because Rider said he'd seen the guy he shot go down. The commander of the artillery battery, however, claimed it for his unit. The records had to show two dead NVA. So they did. But at regiment it looked odd - two kills with no probables. So a probable got added. It was a conservative estimate. It only made sense that if you killed two, with the way the NVA pulled out bodies, you had to have some probables.


Where Matterhorn succeeds - and to be sure, it does succeed - is in its description of the day to day life of the American soldiers. I don't mean the battles, which are actually the least interesting, least dramatic parts of the novel, but the marching, the sleeping, the eating, the suffering by a thousand cuts.

As someone who has dabbled in historical fiction, I know all too well that research can only take you so far. No matter how many hours you spend in a library, there are certain facts you can't reach. Marlantes is a decorated vet (and like Mellas, he went to an Ivy League school) and it shows with the impossible verisimilitude. It's not just the descriptions of the weather - wet, humid, sweltering in the day, cold at night - the malaria, the leeches, the deadly animals, the terror of the night, but the precise knowledge of which MREs the soldiers mixed together to form a palatable meal.

Another great success of Matterhorn is its dialogue. Undoubtedly, dialogue is the toughest thing to write. There are few acknowledged masters of the art, those authors who can construct entire books around the conversations of the characters. I'm not about to place him on the level of, say, an Elmore Leonard, but Marlantes' dialogue is a wonderful mixture of knowing slang, military shorthand, and profane eloquence. It greatly enhances the dark comedy that runs as an undercurrent throughout the novel.

The only problem I had with the book as it presently exists is an ill advised sidetrip to a hospital ship, wherein one of the characters engages in a poorly conceived, sloppily executed discussion with a nurse. It's a passage clunky enough to lose a star.

My real problem with Matterhorn is that it feels like a small piece of a larger whole. And it is. Marlantes worked on Matterhorn for 30 years, until it ran to 1,600 pages. It was published at 566 pages, or about one-third its original length.

Now, as anyone who's come this far in this review knows, I appreciate verbosity. But I'm not going to disparage editors. Despite my affinity for the unabridged, I fully understand that a skilled editor can take a chunk of marble and help an author turn that into a statue of a naked figure out of Biblical times that everyone will be enamored of for some reason.

In this case, 1,600 pages was paired down to 566, and what remains, while very good, is a skeleton of a classic. There are so many characters in this book that it's hard to keep them straight. You don't get to spend enough time with any of them to really make a connection. This is especially harmful when it comes time for the climactic battle and people you don't care about - but are supposed to - start dying. Even the purported main character - Mellas - is inconsistent. On one page he's super-ambitious, on another, he seems ready to join a peace protest; on one page he's a political in-fighter; in another, he's Matthew Modine from Full Metal Jacket.

I don't blame Marlantes for this, because I think that in his original draft, these character problems didn't exist. I believe that Marlantes probably intended this to be a bit like The Naked and the Dead, in that it'd follow a sprawling group of men at war, interspersed with flashbacks to their lives back home. In that 1,600 page draft, I'm sure I'd get a deeper understanding of the friendship between Williams and Mallory; or the motivations of Vancouver; or the depths of Cassidy, who despite being a racist, also shows traces of decency. Most of this is lost in Matterhorn's present state. The only characters who get extended flashbacks to home are Mulvaney and Mellas. This is disappointing because these brief sections were amazing. They burst with insight and humanity that added the ephemeral breath of life to these fictional characters. For instance, there is a moment when Mellas, a virgin, is thinking about a girl with whom he shared an awkward date:

Mellas wanted to reach out across the Pacific and apologize. He didn't remember her name. She didn't know he was in a hole about to die. War was breaking life apart and splintering it, so there were no second chances and all the first chances were wasted.


Matterhorn is a very good book: it is funny, it feels real, and it has passages of chill-inducing beauty. Yet, in its present form, it falls short of being a classic. I hope someday that Marlantes, flush with deserved success, will find an editor more eager to shape than cut, and a publisher with the guts to publish a cinderblock-sized novel.

Because I will gladly buy that cinderblock.
Profile Image for Tim.
189 reviews85 followers
November 20, 2019
The first novel I've ever read about the Vietnam war. The author fought in the conflict and it apparently took him many years to write this novel. The sense of authenticity is palpable throughout - occasionally this can be a hindrance (a little too much of the realistic banter engaged in by the men slowed down the pace at times) but mainly it's a huge asset.
First and foremost it's a brilliant dramatization of the insanity of war. Unlike every operation in the second world war where every objective is pretty clear cut here the opposite is true. There seems little rhyme or reason for the things the marines are asked to do. The novel begins with Bravo Company conducting an assault on a remote, mountainous military outpost, near the demilitarised zone separating North and South Vietnam and the Laos border. When it's secured they are inexplicably ordered to leave it. One of the many instances of the lack of communication between the military advisors and the troops on the ground. Later in the novel they will have to take it back from the enemy who have profited from the defences the exhausted Marines set up.
A moving subplot of this novel is the divide between blacks and white and the racism of those in charge. When on combat everyone is united by a shared sense of purpose but the minute they return to a base this brotherhood disintegrates. One particular redneck is so loathed by the blacks that they are plotting to kill him throughout the narrative.
Profile Image for David Putnam.
Author 15 books1,433 followers
September 8, 2019
Loved this book. I liked the Thirteenth Valley by Delvecio and Green Berets by Robin Moore, this one is better, the definitive novel of Vietnam. Highly recommend.
d.
Profile Image for Carol.
822 reviews475 followers
May 5, 2014
If you read the reviews of Matterhorn you are going to see words like moving, riveting, heartbreaking, mesmerizing, masterful, epic, authentic, funny even and always unforgettable. All true and more.

Karl Marlantes knows of what he writes from his service as a Marine in Vietnam. He wanted to somehow explain this experience to his family and to share it with us. Vietnam was what I call "my war" meaning it was happening just as I was graduating and getting ready to start my adult life. It was part of my daily life for years. I graduated high school in '66. We were a fortunate class in that not one of our classmates died in Vietnam. Not so for the classes after us. I have always avoided reading fiction from this era as it still feels raw to me. Matterhorn has loomed in the background waiting for me to pick it up for years. I'm truly glad I did. I don't think I could every truly know how it felt or what it meant to be there but if it gave me even an inkling of what our service men and women endured, I have gained something.

I did laugh, I did cry, I did remember. Well thought out, well told, and I hope, somehow healing for Marlantes. Excellent.
Profile Image for Jessica.
593 reviews3,395 followers
Read
May 14, 2013
Like many Americans these days, I have no direct experience of war, so reading books like this one is (hopefully) the closest I'll get to knowing what it's like.

As far as I can tell, war is the horrific dark antithesis to civilization. The central aim of what men have done since they squirmed out of a cave and lit a fire has been to make life longer, easier, and more comfortable for themselves. Granted, they often did this at the expense of others (women, differently-hued men, etc.), but better living did seem to be the general thrust. They invented medicines and conveniences and fun stuff like ice cream and motorcycles, and by the 1960s the life span and physical comfort of most Americans was a wonder for the ages. Sure, there were problems -- racial and economic inequality and what have you -- but if you take the long view and compare it to humanity's historical lot, things were overall pretty damn sweet: most people slept indoors, ate nutritious meals, received medical care and education, and listened to terrific songs playing all the time on the radio. Cars and girls looked great and fashion was pretty fine. Given all this, it's hard to understand why this basically comfortable society sent its boys off to die horribly in an inhospitable jungle on the other side of the world, for no real reason that I or most other people can see.

Matterhorn conveys the senselessness and brutality of this perhaps especially senseless and brutal war. From the beginning, my mouth just hung open as I struggled to understand why we ever did this -- and then, as I shook myself back to the present, why we are still doing this, and when that got too hard to think about, more abstractly, why we have always done this. The novel is excruciating, painful, and close to nihilistic: it's not really a spoiler to reveal here that nearly every sympathetic character dies. But it's not ultimately a nihilistic book, or at least I don't think it quite is, even though it never wraps things up with false comfort or any pleasant answers. I think ultimately Matterhorn was about retaining your humanity in a relentlessly bleak and unjust and monstrous world, or maybe it wasn't. Maybe it was about losing your humanity but continuing to exist, or not, amid all that meaningless trauma and loss and fear. Or maybe it was a recognition of what humanity is: yes it's penicillin and motorcycles and ice cream and Otis Redding and Plymouth Barracudas and cat-eye makeup and bravery that will make a man die out of love for his friends, but it's also teenagers murdering and maiming each other, being destroyed for nothing when they should be at home with their girlfriends where they belong, because war actually isn't the dark side of civilization, but is instead its inevitable result.

Anyway, yeah, kind of a downer. I actually really dragged my feet through the first two hundred pages because it wasn't the kind of book I'd for some reason gotten the impression that it was: I was expecting something High End and Literary with Exquisite Prose, and it took me awhile to realize I was reading a War Novel. Matterhorn is not that high-falutin' lyrical Vietnam Book-Prize Bait -- maybe Tree of Smoke is? I wouldn't know, not having read it.... the writing here does have its moments but is basically workmanlike, which is to say it definitely gets the job done. The landscapes and military details are great; the characters, less so. But whatever, you don't read Matterhorn for its breathtakingly stylish sentences or nuanced writerly tricks; you read it to find out what it was like to be a marine fighting in Vietnam, and while of course I have no way of knowing if it's accurate, it's definitely convincing. Some parts I felt were more successful than others: the handling of race relations felt a bit strained and wooden at times, while the battle scenes and descriptions of day-to-day life were great, and the experience of all these young men being deprived of the company of women just as they became adults was so visceral and poignant that it almost makes me misty-eyed to think of it. What is this world where power-hungry, cynical older men send young virgins off to rot and be blown to pieces on some hill in a country none of them ever would've heard of otherwise?

Ugh. Jesus. Well, I don't know how to answer that, and I wouldn't say I enjoyed this book, but I'm glad I read it and I'm really glad Karl Marlantes lived to write it. I feel like I understand slightly more about war now than I did before, which is good even though it makes me feel really despairing and sad.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,662 followers
November 30, 2012
“First of all, you can’t fall into hating the people you are killing. Because you’ll carry that hate with you longer than you will the actual killing itself. It is only by the grace of God that you are on one side and your enemy is on the other side. I often think, ‘I could have been born in North Vietnam.’”

Matterhorn author Karl Marlantes, August 20, 2010 The Times (London).


Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War launched onto the bestseller lists in 2010, when United States was entrenched in two unpopular wars in ill-understood and seemingly hopeless places: Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither of these wars is comparable to Vietnam in terms of tactical warfare, terrain, volume of casualties and mis-treatment of vets by their fellow citizens, but the cultural divisions at home, the politicizing of the conflicts and the anger and sorrow over the loss of soldiers and civilians remain the same.

Matterhorn tells the Odyssey of Second Lieutenant Waino Mellas as he leads Bravo Company through the jungle near Vietnam’s border with Laos, just beyond the DMZ. The company’s mission is to secure a remote hilltop base: the fictional Matterhorn. This novel is a living thing. It breathes and pulses, it horrifies and heartens. It is a brilliantly written tribute to combat veterans and a searing examination of the fog of war.

Bravo Company becomes a collective Sisyphus, at the mercy of the gods of the Fifth Marine Division. It spins in circles in the jungle, following the quixotic orders of base commanders more concerned with their careers than the lives of the young men in their charge. The soldiers of Bravo Company endure the unbearable: jungle rot, immersion (or trench) foot, man-eating tigers, near-starvation and dehydration, and of course, the horrific results of combat: bullets, grenades, mines and shrapnel cut down the company throughout their journey.

The narrative has many themes: the adventure of battle and the camaraderie of soldiers; the value of a well-trained militia in sharp contrast with inherent unjustifiable nature of war; the racial tension between black soldiers and white that brings the conflicts of home to the battlefields of Vietnam; and the truth of military politics - the power struggles between reserve and regular officers and “lifers” on the ground and with their commanding officers, who adjust casualty numbers and keep up a pretense of victory to look good to their superiors and to the press at home.

Marlantes writes with clarity and authenticity, in a style that is raw, vivid and surprisingly readable. Matterhorn flows with fully-realized characters whom you come to love or revile with ferocity, your heart breaking with each loss. He provides breathtaking detail; the combat scenes are rendered in a minute-by-minute reel and you experience the fear, adrenalin and pain alongside the soldiers.

It took Karl Marlantes, a decorated Vietnam veteran and accomplished civilian (Lieutenant, USMC; Rhodes Scholar, Oxford) thirty years to write, rewrite and find a publisher for Matterhorn. Although I would not wish such an arduous journey to publication on any writer, I believe that telling this story now, in a new century, to a generation for which the Vietnam War is an anecdote or a chapter in an American History textbook, benefits the book's readers and its subject.

Among the most precious and devastating aspects of any war are the soldiers’ stories. No one who has not served in combat can understand what a soldier suffers physically and emotionally. For Vietnam veterans, who returned home only to face insults and shunning, the stories remained locked inside. Writers who record their stories speak for the millions who cannot. In 1977, journalist Michael Herr published Dispatches, an account of his experiences in Vietnam in 1967-68 embedded with platoons; Vietnam veteran Tim O’Brien offered the beautiful and compelling The Things They Carried in 1990. Twenty years later - and thirty-five years after the end of the war in Vietnam - Karl Marlantes reminds us that the stories of young soldiers in the jungles of Southeast Asia are as devastating and relevant now as they were to a generation once removed - our fathers, brothers, uncles and grandfathers - who still live with these experiences tormenting their hearts.
Profile Image for Lawyer.
384 reviews822 followers
July 31, 2010
Unforgettable. Marlantes took years to write Matterhorn. Clearly it served as the ultimate catharsis for him to exorcise the horrors of the Vietnam Conflict from his mind. Here is all the insanity of conflict. Here is all the hubris of ranking officers who never visit a battlefield, but whose rise in the ranks depend upon victories in places of no military value. The grunts are pawns on the chessboards of their ranking officers road to promotion. You will be reminded of Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried," James Webb's "Fields of Fire," and Winston Groom's "Better Times Than These." At times I found myself casting the young actors of "Platoon" as the characters in this novel. It is impossible to read this novel without comparing this powerful narrative to Oliver Stone's cinematic masterpiece. You will find nothing of glory in "Matterhorn." There is only resigned acceptance of troops who follow orders with no logical objective. The bond of loyalty from one trooper to the next is the glue that holds this novel together. Marlantes does not attempt to establish any logic to the Vietnam Conflict. However, he does construct a permanent memorial to the men who fought and died there. As "The Wall" serves as a constant reminder of America's sad history in Vietnam, Marlantes' remarkable novel gives flesh and blood and soul to the names of those who line that long black wall.
Profile Image for Matt.
3,613 reviews12.8k followers
June 26, 2012
An excellent insight into ther Vietnam War told in such a way that the reader feels they are right there with the Marines. Having read many Jeff Shaara books, I feel I know a good war book when I come across one and this one, penned by first time author Karl Marlantes, was an excellent piece of work. With strong language, gripping stories about the coming together and division within a group of Marines fighting in the jungles of Vietnam, Marlantes illustrates the rawness of the war and, at times, the utter uselessness of the entire campaign.

Marlantes spares no detail in his illustration of the 1968-69 portion of the fighting. Full of excellent battle narration and some powerful injury description, Marlantes pulls the reader in, disgusting them in parts and leaving them to wonder 'why' in others. Not once did I feel any rationale behind this bloodbath.

Well done, Mr. Marlantes. A great book from a useless war!
Profile Image for Terri.
529 reviews251 followers
January 5, 2011
Matterhorn. Karl Marlantes. What can I say? It has taken me a few weeks to leave this review because it has taken that long to find the words.
Matterhorn is powerful, emotional, gripping, gut wrenching, but most of all, it is haunting.
Haunting. Yes, that is it most of all, it is haunting in a way that is beyond anything that I have read for a very long time.
I want to thank Karl Marlantes for the experience and the insight.
I want to thank him for sharing with me a story that I have no doubt has reflections in his own memory. But most of all, I want to thank him for keeping this war in my mind. Lest we forget, as they say.
Vietnam was not a glamorous or politically expedient war (if there is such a thing). We all know the stories of what society did to these Vietnam Veterans when they returned home, and we have all heard the horrible tales of chemical residues killing nervous systems and nurturing cancer. This we know and yet people remember other wars and veterans with nostalgia and Vietnam with indifference. I was born in the 70's, too late to feel the tension of Vietnam, so perhaps I will never understand why this is.
There are books aplenty on WW1 and 2, and people devour them readily. Sometimes these wars are romanticised too much and this finds them favour with readers.
The Vietnam War is hard to romanticise and so it rarely finds fertile ground in the minds of younger readers. And I suppose I can understand. It is easier for those of certain constitutions to read stories of hope. Stories of survivors. Stories of heroes, of dog fights in beautiful old spitfires, of spies, of Nazi occupation, of secreting Jews out of Germany and Paris, of the beaches of Normandy, the ocean islands of the Pacific. Vietnam, compared to these wars filled with heroes, had body bags and political protest, and men dying in jungles for unknown political reasons, chemicals, resume hunters and officers needing to prove that they had won status in Korea.
So again, I thank Karl Marlantes for bringing me his Vietnam. As a place where men and boys from a Coalition fought men and boys from Vietnam and both sides lost.
Profile Image for Joe.
325 reviews74 followers
August 12, 2021
Matterhorn is a dense, well-written, realistic, emotional and intense novel about the Vietnam War - written by a veteran. It is also extremely difficult to read. Within the first few pages the reader is dropped into Vietnam joining the marines of Bravo Company and it is a brutal experience. This book consists not simply of battle scenes, ambushes and forced marches – although there is plenty of that here – Matterhorn is much more visceral and cerebral than that. And if that sounds like a contradiction, that is both the beauty and the horror of this novel.

The book’s central character is Waino Mellas, a new lieutenant who arrives “in-country” naïve, but also without any starry-eyed idealism. He soon learns his mission is very simple and almost impossibly difficult - survival, for him and his men. He combats the enemy, the elements, the jungle, the racial tensions festering among the troops, and unfortunately his superiors - The colonels and generals behind the lines, who measure and monitor the war with fictional body counts and pins on a map regardless of conditions and divorced from reality.

This disconnect between the command post and the battlefield is what makes this story so difficult to read because Mellas and Bravo Company face one crisis, one suicide mission and one catastrophe after another – all the while following orders. At times I found I could only read a couple of chapters at a time because just as I thought Bravo Company’s situation couldn’t get any worse – it most certainly did.

An excellent book but be forewarned Matterhorn is an emotionally draining read.
Profile Image for Doubledf99.99.
203 reviews79 followers
September 2, 2019
An unforgettable and powerful read of Marines in combat, and all the minute detail of leading men, in bivouac, on patrols and in the VCB. One section of the story the was about the The Trail of Tears Op. The book included a few maps, and a glossary of terms and military slang.
Profile Image for Michael .
283 reviews25 followers
December 5, 2018
I was never issued a draft card. I enlisted in the Marines right out of high school and I was still seventeen. I enlisted on a 90 day delay so by the time I hit the yellow foot prints I was then 18. The Marines agreed that I was too intelligent to be a grunt, so I enlisted on an aviation guarantee and went to school for two years learning electronics. I became an Ace from SACE. I became a radar technician.

I saw duty at MCAS Nam Phong, Thailand. The aircraft we supported flew bombing missions into Vietnam almost 24/7. "They say" that the tarmac and the structures built upon it were built by the French in the French Indonesian War. They say that the Seabees were in three weeks before our deployment from Japan reclaiming the base from the Jungle. They carved out roads and built the framework for our living quarters that we referred to as Hootches. Ten men lived in each hootch.

Nam Phong had several squadrons of aircraft and the many mechanics and technicians necessary to keep our birds flying and bomb dropping. We were all in Japan when we got orders to disassemble our mission support maintenance facility and load it all on C141s and put it all together again to support our aircraft mission against the enemy in the Nam. We....I mean every swingin' dick in uniform labored the most of three days in 45F easy, steady rain to secure our units into the cargo holds of the C141s. We also tied ourselves into the webbing on each bulkhead. We flew eight hours to the jungles of Thailand and had to set everything up again in working order ASAP. Now we were in 110F sunshine.

I don't remember how long it took to get mission and support ready. I know guys were dropping out like flies. We had our K rations, bottled water and plenty of beer. During the reassembly process someone yelled that it was raining. Everybody stripped off...there were no women there.....grabbed a towel and bar of soap and took our first shower under the roof of the only A framed building on the tarmac. After those several days required to rebuild our maintenance facility, we were finally told to get ten guys together and go claim a hootch by throwing this huge piece of canvas over the frame the Seabees built. Much of the grouping of men was work related. If you can imagine the tents on M.A.S.H.....well that is about what we had. A hatch....door...on each end down the middle. Five men on each side of that path from hatch to hatch. There was little order in living assignments. The grunts would have remained together as squads. We were air-wingers and we billeted by shops.

There were two levels of maintenance at the Rose Garden, the nickname for MCAS Nam Phong. The OMA guys met with the flying crew about a problem with a system. They would pull a "black box" and send it through the supply system and immediately install another like black box to get the bird back in the sky. The black box removed from the aircraft would come to the intermediate level maintenance shop. Now I get into the scene by repairing the black box by replacing a module board or a component to get that box back into the system thus clearing my "in work" backlog. If our "in work" column was empty, we didn't have to remain in the maintenance complex; we could go back to the hootch and fuck off being on call.

We worked seven days a week and twelve hours a day. I did not get lucky enough to work 7am to 7pm when heat of the day was canceled by the air conditioned work spaces required by that electronic circuitry. I worked from 1900 to 0700 and by then it was usually already too hot to sleep. We didn't have electricity in the hootches for six months. I brought a small electric fan with me from Japan, but it was useless for a long time until they put generators in the several living areas. I remember each generator powered four hootches.

For many months we lived on K rations. They put a 5,000 gallon water bladder in each area. A tanker truck would fill up from the river and keep our water bladders full. Like an above ground pool. We poked holes in empty mess cans and attached a wire handle to scoop out river water and hold the can over our heads to serve as our shower. I also brought from Japan a guitar. I've always been the company troubadour.

My experience did not include killing. As are all Marines, even a radar technician, I was also a Marine rifleman. The Marine Corp awarded me a badge that said I was an Expert rifleman. As such I was required to take a turn walking the perimeter with a fully loaded M16 and a 45 caliber sidearm I carried along with my rank of Sergeant. I shot at no one and no one decided to shoot at me. I was quite happy with that arrangement. I damn near died there of dysentery......ain't that the shits.


This book kept me interested....it is good......Michael
Profile Image for Fred Shaw.
562 reviews42 followers
August 25, 2019
Matterhorn is a historical novel of US Marines fighting in Viet Nam. It is an extremely well written epic with unforgettable characters and unbelievable descriptions of battles fought in the jungle setting of dense foliage and ever changing weather conditions.

My problem with becoming attached to the bigger than life characters was they were there one minute and gone the next. The experienced “gunny” sergeant, the “boot” or inexperienced Lieutenant, or the fearful private were not immune from the perils of fighting. They call it the human cost of war.

This was not a popular war and while politics were mostly left out of the novel, there were cultural challenges of the times that were included in the storyline. It was a time of drugs and racial overtones of the 60’s that infiltrated the rules of conduct and team relationships of the Marines, with one exception: when the fighting started, all the men were one color, green.

The highlight of the story for me was the close knit camaraderie between the characters which can only come when one man must rely on another to watch his back. (Sorry there were no women in combat in this novel nor in the Viet Nam war. The story was set in 1969.)

The author, Karl Marlantes, is a decorated US Marine and has written a grand story. It was an emotional read, as is to be expected. I am Navy veteran of Viet Nam myself.

I highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Sweetwilliam.
154 reviews53 followers
March 29, 2021
It felt, read, and sounded authentic. I hope and pray that it contains several writer’s embellishments but I’m not so sure it does. The author is a decorated Marine who fought in Vietnam. This story sounds a lot like the author’s citation for the Navy Cross where he led an assault on a cluster of bunkers and was wounded in the process. If you like to read war novels about grunts in platoon and company sized units making vertical assaults than this one’s for you. Race relations were portrayed to be very poor within the Marine Corps at the time. This is the subplot of the book and I’m assuming that this was also based on the author’s experience. Also, there are a few things that don't add up. How could the point man carry a sawed off M60 without a bipod and two ammo cans of ammunition and walk point? I would love to pick the author's brain and determine what legend this was based on? Maybe this is possible? It sure is good fantasy. At any rate, the book points out the strategic failure of Vietnam: We were fighting a war of attrition using body count as the barometer and the other side was fighting to win a propaganda/public relations victory in the media and losses mattered not!

This was an audio book and narrator Bronson Pinchot did an excellent job. It took the author 30 years to write, and it took me only a little more than 30 hours to devour. I wish there was a sequel.
Enjoy.
Profile Image for Mike.
1,100 reviews151 followers
October 20, 2012
It was so good it hurt. Really good. Matterhorn makes it clear you will NEVER understand what it is like to go to war, unless you are one of the warriors in the fight. But he will drag you into a world that seems so immediate and real, you will come out drained. It took him 30 years to write the story and it paid off, every detail, scene and emotion is captured brilliantly. It may be “fiction” but it reads as ground truth. I guarantee any student of war will put this book on the permanent shelf. I can hardly wait to reread it…

My copy is filled with little pieces of paper marking scenes and passages that absolutely gripped me. The description of the racial animosities at the time and the bonds of shared sacrifice overcoming hate are so vivid. The mentality of the career officers and the line grunts, those who were staff pukes and those who knew the shitty math of trading bodies for terrain yet went out and fought…at every turn you will be angry, pissed off, amazed, sad, occasionally bemused, you will run through the gamut of emotions in the course of this book.
So many passages are great but here are two that should piqué your interest.

The warrior vs. the disdainful college crowd.



They don’t fight for the flag or the leaders or some vague idea. They fight for each other. The attack on Helicopter Hill:



Damn this is a good book…and that was a complete understatement.
Profile Image for Jay.
217 reviews45 followers
June 6, 2010
Sebastian Junger, in his New York Times review (4/4/10) of "Matterhorn," noted that "[i:]t's not a book so much as a deployment, and you will not return unaltered." Junger continues:

"There is a blizzard of names, ranks and military terms, for instance, and despite the glossary and unit schematic included in the book, I still felt lost much of the time. That confusion, however, was exactly my experience while covering the United States military as a journalist, and in "Matterhorn" it struck me as annoying but true. ...[W:]hen Marlantes hits it right--which is most of the time--he can lay you out like a boxer with a killer jab."

It would be difficult to find a more accurate critique of Marlantes' novel. The story that weaves itself around its controlling figure, Lt. Waino Mellas, is endlessly absorbing and frequently exhausting. Marlantes pulls you into the Vietnam jungle and into the men of Bravo Company with authentic vision. Working my way through 600 pages was richly rewarding. 5 1/2 stars.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,473 followers
July 30, 2012
Outstanding novel of the Vietnam War. Among the handful of truly great fictional accounts of war. The main focus is on a volunteer young Marine lieutenant, Mellas, as he struggles to be a good soldier, lead his men, and suffer the poor decisions of the officers tasked with an unwinnable war no longer supported widely at home. As revealed well in the narrative, there were few pitched battles or contention to take territory, but instead many skirmishes with political goals, including an artificial emphasis on body counts. With so many black enlisted men, racism is a major backdrop for Mellas' challenges to build cohesion in his company. The compelling tale does not glorify war, does not satirize it, or poeticize it, or use action to entertain. It does elucidate the hearts of those who fought this war, their fears, aspirations, and bonds, their courage and their mistakes. It is heartbreaking yet uplifting in so many ways. It should be required reading for all citizens.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,646 followers
August 12, 2016
"There was no filling the holes of death. The emptiness might be filled up by other things over the years -- new friends, children, new tasks -- but the holes would remain."

There have been books I've read fast before because they were exciting. There have been books that I've read before because they were funny. This is a book that was sad, moving, traumatic, large and important. I didn't nibble. I quickly gulped; cried, then gulped again. You can feel the soul that went into writing this book and the lives that went into giving this book meaning.

This novel belongs on the shelf strategically next to: 'War and Peace', 'The Things They Carried', 'For Whom the Bell Tolls', 'Red Badge of Courage', and 'The Naked and the Dead'.
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