Friday, September 27, 2013


I haven't got the words to review this book. 
So I'm giving you some thoughts from reviewers who had words. 


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.

Michelle, the Bookshelf Stalker Queen of the Undead

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.... 
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 was intense and deeply moving. I will not look at Vietnam or any war the same way. My husband was the radioman in a platoon humping in the jungle of Vietnam about a year after this book was set. Heretofore, he has not talked much about it. Matterhorn helped me understand what that period of his life was like. The book has also opened up conversation with my husband. There will be an event that happens to the characters in the book and I will ask my husband about it. After confirming that the author's depiction is dead-on accurate, he will continue talking about his experiences. Matterhorn has led to some enriching conversations with my husband. For that, I am grateful to Karl Marlantes.

Mellas, a college boy, certainly has an interest in his own career, but that gradually takes a back seat to survival as he sees his marines being shot and blown apart with no clear objective. At one point, he admits to his friend, Lt. Hawke, his desire to bring a medal home that will look good on his resume. Hawke replies: "Look. Everyone wants a medal...It's just that after you've been out here long enough to see what they cost, they don't seem so f**king shiny."

You will learn and you will be moved. You will be torn apart, get mad, cry and laugh. Every emotion is reflected in this book. It is an absorbing experience....
I am falling in love with this book. …. It is intelligent, it is moving, it is superbly executed and it captures a “place” and an experience that few of us can envision....
Yes, I am crying because I have fallen in love with all these guys: Bass and Pollini and Cassidy and Furcasso and China and Mallory and Parker and Jacobs and Goodwin and Kendall and Hawke and Jackson, Murphy, McCarthy, Frederickson, Jancowitz, Pallick, Ridlow, Scar, Fitch, Broyer, and Vancouver and many, many more…. Oh Vancouver!
This book has won me over completely. It is marvelous. What can I say? If the book seems difficult tin the beginning, don’t give up.

 I want to say a special, heartfelt thanks to every Vietnam veteran. This is a book I'll never forget. As many who served in this jungle have said better than I can, this is a powerful story of so many aspects of war, particularly this war. Everything was so nebulous, I don't see how anyone either managed to fight or came out alive. This is a story of the people of that war up and down the ranks. If you never fought in such a war (I didn't) and want to know what war is like, read this book. 
If you don't understand why people protest war, read this book. If you didn't understand why Vietnam vets threw away their medals (800 of them reportedly), or why warriors come home with post traumatic stress disorder, read this book. If you don't care about any of this, read this book because it's an important part of American history and should remind us never to repeat this war and what happened within it and around it. 
For the squeamish, the book isn't unduly gruesome. It is, though, enraging and incredibly sad and enlightening. It is about a brotherhood that can't be truly understood unless you lived it. It is about how it really was, not how the news portrayed it. It's the story of a few good men -- and a few others. 


Filled with images of oozing immersion foot, young faces smeared with purple Kool Aid, clinging leeches, young soldiers crawling on their bellies through the dense jungle, I couldn’t relax one minute as I read.

I have read many books throughout my life. Very few have caused the same emotions than what Matterhorn has done while I read through it. It created a complex web of anger, sadness, and anticipation that constantly shift as the story unfolds. I got to know the characters and felt the pains of their passing. This book is one of the few that remind me of how powerful reading truly is... 
Throughout the overarching story line, there are smaller, more personal, story arcs following the different soldiers surrounding Mellas. Marlantes crafted a compelling background for many of the soldiers that created a connection between them and I.

I've finished this mammoth book and it's sitting on my desk now, dog-earred, stained, the spine ready to break. I was actually loaned the book, and now I'm going to buy the owner a new copy because this one has taken a beating. Why? I couldn't put it down, reading in the car, at a diner, a doctor's waiting room, on the couch with a cup of coffee, etc. You feel the characters' anger at being forced into a situation over which they have no control, having to march without food or water because an incompetent, alcoholic, promotion-seeking officer is using them to advance his dismal career.
John Jeffire

For me, this book is outstanding. I think more than anything else, it is because the story is written about operations at the tactical and small unit level that were very similar to those in which the units I was with (also in 1969) participated. It was written about the very terrain over which I walked, slipped, fell, dug holes, got leaches, suffered jungle rot from the smallest nicks and scratches, and all the while drank a lot of halazone- or globaline-treated water well-dosed with Kool-Aid to cover the iodine taste. All of this described by Marlantes with terrific accuracy and clarity. 
All you 3rd Marine Division guys, our brother Navy corpsmen included, will actually be able to picture the settings described for nearly every step Marlantes' characters take. For those who were not there, all I can say is - believe it.

This is by far one of my favourite books I've read this year, an arresting, incredible story about the organised insanity of war. It was a page-turner in the best sense: not something you sprinted through and forgot about because very little was being asked, but a book that places you so completely in the world of the marines on Matterhorn that you can't look away.
Elliott Hall

While the subject matter is harsh, brutal and leaves those of us who lived during those times with a feeling of abject sadness, it is a book which compels the reader to continue. The dialogue is realistic and spontaneous as the following example provides:
Hamilton looked ruefully at his pack. “Do I give them my peaches or my pound cake?”
“Just one more glorious day in the corps,” said Bass, “where every day’s a holiday and every meals a feast.”
“Lifer,” Fredrickson retorted.
“Loyal, industrious, freedom-loving, efficient, rugged,”Bass shot back quickly.
“Lazy, ignorant, #### expecting retirement,” Fredrickson replied. 

As with any war story there are casualties which don’t come cheap. The reader becomes such a part of Bravo Company that one grieves each death and this is perhaps the real greatness of Matterhorn, the realization of the costs of war.

As many have observed, a frontline soldier’s life involves long period of tedium and boredom punctuated by soul-searing episodes of pure terror. In Vietnam, the Marines spent endless days on patrols in the jungle: “The fourteen-man snake moved in spasms. The point man would suddenly crouch, eyes and ears straining, and those behind him would bunch up, crouch, and wait to move again. They would get tired, let down their guard. Then, frightened by a strange sound, they would become alert once again. Their eyes flickered rapidly back and forth as they tried to look in all directions at once. They carried Kool-Aid packages, Tang – anything to kill the chemical taste of the water in their plastic canteens. Soon the smears of purple and orange Kool-Aid on their lips combined with the fear in their eyes to make them look like children returning from a birthday party at which the hostess had shown horror films.”

One passage provided a dark-humoured and presumably realistic look at the compilation of the infamous body counts provided by the military in the Vietnam War (and probably by all armies in all wars). 

“Mellas looked at Daniels. Daniels held up both hands, palms out, and shrugged. He didn’t give a shit. Mellas keyed the radio. “Bravo Six, this is Bravo One Actual. We got one probable. That’s all. Over.” He wasn’t going to lie so that any artillery officer could feel good. So the one probable became a fact. Fitch radioed it to battalion. Major Blakely, the battalion operations officer, 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. It made the same sense to the commander of the artillery battalion: four confirmed, two probables, which is what the staff would report to Colonel Mulvaney, the commanding officer of Twenty-Fourth Marines, at the regimental briefing. By the time it reach Saigon, however, the two probables, had been made confirms, but it didn’t make sense to have six confirmed kills without probables. So four of those got added. Now it looked right. Ten dead NVA and no one hurt on our side. A pretty good day’s work.”

 After three days spent with this emotional behemoth, my only wish is that I could forget about it and rediscover it again for the first time. Fantastic. Eric McGreevy

This was a book that took me two weeks to read the first 120 pages and then I burned through the last 350ish pages in an afternoon. It's written in Marine, which is a few deviations away from standard American English, so your head kind of has to click over to that unique lexicon, but once you do, oh, man. This is one that should be required reading for all Americans, because it really digs into that uncomfortable place of what it is we are asking when we ask our troops to go to war. What does it mean at an individual level to ask this teenager or other very young person to be making split-second life and death decisions for themselves, their comrades, and the nebulously defined enemy. How are the actions required of them not aligned with the political machinations that are running the war?  Rachelfm

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.
Timothy Bazzett

Unforgettable is a cliche we throw around too much. Some things really are unforgettable, and Matterhorn is one of them. Please read it.
Richard Burger

In the midst of horrific chaos and the suffocating and maddening presence of death, Marlantes also tells a parallel story; a story of camaraderie, beautiful unity overcoming societal forces of racism and xenophobia which were so soberingly present in the 1960’s. The political analysis interwoven throughout this incredible novel is nothing less than noteworthy and an absolute testament to the bravery of Mr. Marlantes. He receives my utmost respect and admiration for having the courage and personal strength to tell this story true and uncensored. War at its worst- war completely naked, exposed, and revealed as an ugly, bittersweet reality of our human existence.Sarah

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