This book is just amazing, and my words are a poor substitute for the reality of being immersed up to your neck in the Vietnam War, which is what this book delivers.
The story has an almost existential simplicity -- Bravo company starts off guarding a hill called Matterhorn, then gets pulled off that assignment to satisfy some pointless task elsewhere in the war (a mission chosen for the sole purpose of enhancing the career of a superior officer), and then -- when the NVA occupy Matterhorn in the absence of US forces-- Bravo company is sent back to the very same hill to retake it from the NVA. But these simple statements hide all of the gritty and terrifying details of each stage of the story, and it's in the details where both God and the devil show themselves.
In short, this is a book that could never have been written by anyone other than a former soldier, and I hate to make this comparison, but the battle scenes and details of going to war had the simple, horrifying force of similar passages from War and Peace. Really, this one is worth the credit.
Now, just to be fair, there's two areas where Marlantes falls down a bit, and it's too bad, because these are things that I would expect any decent editor to help out with, but no. And these two faults are distracting enough that they take away from the pure perfection of the rest of the book -- so only four stars out of five from me.
First, Marlantes has a real problem with creating realistic dialogue. Every time two soldiers are about to go into battle, probably never to return, they have such a boring, silly, self-indulgent conversation about something that you know would not be the topic of conversation at that point -- say, race relations in the US in the 1960s, or the nature of evil in the world, or the justness of the United State's role in Vietnam. C'mon, I wasn't there, so maybe this is what actually happened, but lots of Marlantes' dialogue between soldiers sounds a lot like random philosophical b.s. that you'd hear in the sophomore dorms at Yale.
The second problem is that Marlantes has a bit of heavy hand with some of the secondary characters. Like one Marine colonel, who is as close as the book gets to having a pure "bad guy." This colonel is a drunk, AND violent, AND a bully, AND a kiss-ass, AND an uneducated dolt, AND a sneak. In other words, we get it already -- Marlantes doesn't like the dude, and neither should we! But piling all of these characteristics into just one person makes the book sort of flatten out into two-dimensions. I wanted to hate this colonel too, because he's the cause of so many of the problems that Bravo company has to overcome, but Marlantes was so over-the-top on his treatment of this guy, I actually started to feel bad for him (the bad guy) at the end. Another character, a young black Marine, is intelligent AND humble AND brave AND preaches the gospel of Jesus to his frightened colleagues -- seriously, I thought this guy was going to turn water into wine by the end of the book.
Neither of these faults, however, is any more than slightly annoying in an otherwise perfect, thrilling read. I would recommend this book enthusiastically, and I hope you end up enjoying it as much as I did.
Retired teacher. Hometown: Eden, NY.
This is not intended to be a review in the literary sense of the word. Rather it is a very late effort to exorcise myself of the guilt for an almost complete lack of physical and emotional involvement in the Vietnam War. I wasn't there. Whatever meaning those three accusatory words might carry, it still reeks of the stench of non-involvement. I wasn't there!
Instead, at the height of this senseless massacre, for me about forty-five years ago, I was completing college (ironically on the GI Bill) and moving into a career of teaching. Unable to resume my third year at a small Pennsylvania state teachers college, I had enlisted in the U.S. Navy. To my knowledge, it was the first time that branch of the military had offered a voluntary two year period of service. It was a piece of cake. After boot camp I was assigned to the USS Wisconsin (BB64), appointed as the Executive Officer's Yeoman, and just enjoyed a two-year "shakedown cruise" involving good will visits to more than fifteen countries. No, I wasn't there... there being the real war, not my cruise ship junket on a brand new battleship. The only action I ever saw was at a typewriter. As I said, the GI Bill enabled me to return to college (and even paid for a Master's Degree). But I wasn't there. Youth and the joy of a successful first decade of teaching (1959-1969) blinded me to everything except me, and any time a whiff of Vietnam or the campus protests encroached upon that serenity, "the war" just seemed so far away. No, I wasn't there but here.
Karl Marlantes' MATTERHORN: A NOVEL OF THE VIETNAM WAR, although coming to my attention only in early June 2012, zapped me from a complacency about being "here" for most of the war, and viciously threw me into a shock of recognition ... a shock that leered and hissed my betrayal of any kind of support for a war that America never should have fought. But fight it did, right or wrong ... my country and friends and neighbors, even a brother-in-law shot days before his release ... but I wasn't there in thought, word or deed.
I was doing just fine until I joined Audible. Why I ever chose MATTERHORN, a brilliant first novel thirty-five years in the writing by a scholar who actually fought heroically in the war's darkest days, is beyond me. But, as Marlantes' characters so often muse, "There it is."
By the time I engaged in a final six-hour listening marathon, irresistibly drawn into the diorama of so many men's lives - past, present, and future - I was finally there as much as I ever could be. My six-hundred page exorcism was over. I am scourged, stronger for the sacrifices of the thousand thousands for whom John Donne's bell never tolled in my heart until now. A humble token of my respect and appreciation for the "kids" who fought this insane war is demonstrated in my near reverent Internet searches to gain knowledge, truth, wisdom - the only three solemn and bloodied sisters who are capable of releasing me from the collectively subconscious guilt that the cancer of the Vietnam War produced in most Americans who had a pulse at the time, including the government and the politicians ... especially the politicians. The truth will set you free? Better late than never?
Well, maybe. There it is. But I wasn't there... in thought, word, or deed.
I wasn't there!
I have 173 books in my library, read most of them, about 80% were carefully selected, as was Matterhorn.
Matterhorn being, up until now at least, the best of the bunch. I never though I could get into war-stories, but I gave it a try and man, it's worth it.
I listened to the complete book within a time period of 36 hours... just couldn't put it to rest. The difficulty as always is to find something equally entertaining.
This is probably the finest war literature I've ever listened to (or read). This will go down as one of the definitive Vietnam war novel. Bronson Pinchot's grasp of cross-cultural American voices were a perfect complement to his gravelly narration. Just an amazing story, could barely let go of the earphones throughout the read.
This is not my usual reading material being a 59 year old female, but I appreciated it immensely. The reader did an excellent job and the writing was riveting. I learned a lot about the Vietnam War that was probably quite authentic based on comments from friends back then. This is not a happy story with a wonderful ending but a realistic view of war in a jungle far away. I would recommend it to everyone to read!
Really one of the best books I've downloaded in the past two years. I would give it ten stars if I could. Its a compelling and heartbreaking story. I think the best part about this book though is that it is not a retelling of all of the familiar Vietnam stories, the tales we've become familiar with from Platoon or Full Metal Jacket or Capote or whatever. Its a truly unique perspective, and there are still things in this book that I had never heard told before and can hardly believe may have happened. My father-in-law, a silver star winning Marine in Vietnam, gave this book his most enthusiastic praise while also admitting it was difficult for him to read at times. Definitely worth your d/l credit and time to listen.
I read the reviews and thought they were probably overstated. I was very wrong. This book is great and I highly recommend it. It rings with authenticity.
Reading, the arts and physical activity clarify, explain, illustrate, and interpret life’s goods and bads.
Avid Audible/Kindle reader/listener of literature for over ten years. Yet have only been providing written reviews on Audible since March of 2014.
I read the Matterhorn two years ago this month, and many great books since that time. Yet, I just had to reach back and add my praise to the work; the Matterhorn. 24 months have passed and almost daily images of the Matterhorn’s tales and tragedies continue to reflect in my mind. His stories and the calamities suffered by Marlantes’ characters, our Viet Nam marines (my contemporaries), to this day make me shiver thinking of the horrors that come with war. Marlantes just doesn’t shock you though, but rather gives you the opportunity to think through the awfulness and determine what is really important in the momentary lives we are given. I.e., straighten out your values and how you spend your time because its all serendipity but a good portion of those chance discoveries are not fortunate opportunities but gateways into the nine circles of Dante’s purgatory.
Inter alia, I have read all of Shelby Foote’s Civil War, Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, and of course, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. All Quiet, prior to the Matterhorn, being the most demonstrative depictions of the dreadfulness. Until the Matterhorn I had to rate All Quiet as the most effective communication of war’s lottery wheel of evil. Now it is the second on my list. I have read nothing more unrestrained than the Matterhorn. If you need to know . . . you need to read the Matterhorn.
I am a blind lawyer and aspiring writer, trying to read a little bit of everything but partial to sci-fi and military fiction.
The title is a phrase repeated by many of the characters over the course of the novel, and I think sums up rather well the author's approach and the feeling one walks away with at the end of this terrific listen. This story is not a sweeping epic, but a vivid and graphic portrait of a war, which as tragic and awful as we acknowledge it to be, resides in the public consciousness as little more than a series of Hollywood cliches. What you get with Matterhorn is a grizzly, demoralizing slog of an experience plagued with institutional pettiness, ignorance of meddling superiors, and the excruciating knowledge that by and large everyone involved is doing their best.
The author's own experiences appear to have been put to good use, as the story overflows with little technical, environmental and social details that bring the experience to life. Bits like personal items each marine chooses to carry on long marches, the flaws in equipment, and the very tenuous race dynamics of frontline units integrated for less than twenty years and at the height of the civil rights ant anti-war movements back home add authenticity and any number of personal dramas to the overall story.
The performance also contributes to the novel's impact, as each character is given a unique voice that helps ground the listener's awareness of who they are and where they're coming from. The narration itself provides the perfect tone, often bleak and frustrated but at times frantic or even hilarious. Through the eyes of a new platoon leader, the author introduces us to a cast of very memorable stand-ins for thousands of young men sent to fight a war they didn't understand and often made no sense in any event. Through his characters' trials, he gets us to see what he and so many went through, asked to do the impossible for no understandable purpose, over and over again, losing friends and belief along the way. It is a powerful and often embittering journey, one that will leave you appalled at the cost of war, and genuinely appreciative of the ones who endure the sacrifices it requires.