October Book Club: Matterhorn PREview

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War   

Karl Marlantes

I’m really excited for the October book club book, Matterhorn.  I just finished reading the book, and I have to say that it’s one of my favorite war novels.  The book is told from a young Lieutenant’s point of view just as he enters the Vietnam conflict for the first time.  It’s a heart-wrenching tale of Marine Company Bravo, who secures a mountain-top, only to be ordered to abandon it soon thereafter, and finally forced to retake it only after the enemy is entrenched in Bravo Company’s own fortifications.

It took Marlantes 30 years to get the book published.  He wrote it in 1977, but was rejected over and over again until it was finally published in 2007.  Apparently, a 1,600 page book is a fairly hard sell.  The final draft was published only after cutting about 1,000 pages from the book.  My favorite part about Matterhorn, is that its loosely based on Marlantes’ own experiences.  You can start to see some similarities once you hear Marlantes’ stories about being in Vietnam.  I read the book with a new respect once I found out that Marlantes is a war hero himself.  He was awarded two Navy Commendation Medals for valor, two Purple Hearts and ten Air Medals.  He also earned the Navy Cross for actions very similar to the ones Matterhorn‘s main character, Lieutenant Mellas, took during the book’s climatic battle.

Yeah, he didn’t just make this stuff up, he freaking lived it!  Remember that as you read the book.  It definitely adds a whole new level of legitimacy to the story.

The New York Times describes war novels as such:

Every war novel must at some point confront a central contradiction. Only the truth has any real value, but the truth about war is that it contains nearly unbearable levels of repetition, boredom and meaninglessness. To write honestly about war, you should make readers feel they have endured those things as well. Yet no sane novelist wants to inflict that much discomfort on the audience. And so we read novels (and watch movies) filled with the kind of bravery and drama that make war look at least entertaining, if not admirable. Many of those works are tremendous artistic achievements. But they’re not war.

We can be assured that Matterhorn is not this type of story. There’s no doubt that its a gripping read; there’s enough action, bravery and drama to keep you up at night with your pulse racing. The book goes beyond all of that, though, bringing in an element of realness that will surely leave every reader feeling as though they are in the Vietnamese Jungles with Bravo Company. I can’t imagine someone reading this book and remaining unchanged in their views of the Vietnam War and how we view our country’s service men.

Great book that will surely make for great book club conversations.

Get it here.

Join the conversation in the comment section below, the #iUMBC hash tag on twitter, or on our iUMBC page on Facebook.

About zach

Staring out across the hazy mountain range on his latest summitting of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Zach saw with a clearness he had not yet seen. "People should tremble at the very sound of my name", he thought. And it was so. "I should master the manly arts of the world, such as barehanded hunting and blacksmithing". And it was so. "People should call me Z$". And it was so.

Currently Reading

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  1. Matterhorn… the feel good novel of the year!

  2. i have to be honest, i’m a little unsure about reading this–the subject matter and length are deterrents. how long did it take you to read it?

    • While it was long, it took me less than 2 weeks. Goes pretty fast.

      What are your reservations about reading it due to subject matter?

      It is definitely a gritty, real description of the war, but I wouldn’t put it in the same league as something like Platoon or Full Metal Jacket. Where it was hard for me to get through at some parts.

  3. “There’s no doubt that its a gripping read; there’s enough action, bravery and drama to keep you up at night with your pulse racing.”

    There is also enough F-words, jungle rot, and military slang to send you a little loopy, a great read so far!

  4. well, i should at least start it and see what i think. i’m guessing you only have an electronic version? i was going to get it at the airport before my most recent trip but stupid kci doesn’t have bookstores and the newsstands weren’t carrying it.

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