BOOK REVIEW: Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam WarMatterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marlantes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Marlantes gives one insight into what it was like to be a soldier, in particular a young officer, during the Vietnam War. For those confused by the name, “Matterhorn” is the name of a fictional encampment in central Vietnam in the book.

In Matterhorn, war is as it has famously been defined, “long periods of intense boredom punctuated by brief instants of sheer terror.” The author builds his characters such that the periods of intense boredom are informative. We see how the tension of the war boils over into fresh hell that interrupts the boredom.

Racial issues play a major part in the drama of the book. The main character, Waino Mellas, is white and of the variety who are almost apologetic in the presence of blacks. However, within the unit there are both black-power movement types as well as good ole boys, making for one powder kegs that erupts during the course of the book.

Race is not the only fault line we see in Matterhorn. There is also a tension between “lifers” and draftees. However, the bigger tension is between the front line troops and those who direct them from afar. The most intense section of the book involves a raid on a hill for which the men are undernourished and under-supplied.

The author was a Marine in Vietnam, and this experience no doubt contributed to the book’s authenticity.

I highly recommend this book as a powerful examination of the role that valor and vice play in war.

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