Many wars have followed after our Vietnam War era. But every war contains similar aspects, after-effects, and too much PTSD.
Karl Marlantes is a highly decorated Vietnam veteran who spent thirty years writing and rewriting the book Matterhorn, in his spare time. He accomplished this while also supporting a large family, by working as a business consultant. I’m posting my review of the book, in hopes of spreading the word about this marvelous war novel. The book is long (almost 600 pages) but is certainly worth the time invested in reading and absorbing it.
It’s All Here- The Monsoons, The Leeches, The Terror, The Brotherhood, and More Pieces of the Vietnam War Puzzle
Karl Marlantes personal story of how his book came about is a fascinating one. To spend thirty years of his spare time writing and rewriting this book, proves the power that the Vietnam War still holds over so many of us.
The stories of Nam will continue to be born, as if the dead of that war cannot remain silent. And so many of the living who experienced it are, and will continue to be, compelled to tell their tales. Reading the book, for me, is to go back to my life in high school, when all my young male classmates and acquaintances had the draft hanging over their head, and many were leaving for Nam right after graduation. Some dropped out of school to enlist.
Falling in love when I was but a teenager, with a young marine who ended up serving two tours in Nam, means that I can relate to Marlantes work on a visceral level. The mere mention of words such as camouflage utility jacket, chopper, dee-dee, klicks, DMZ, hootch, trench foot, lifer, patrol, point, perimeter, and so many other terms, brings back a flood of memories, snapshots in my mind, and a stirring up of old pain.
While it’s hard to go back to that time and place, I’ve taken the journey with Marlantes protagonist, Second Lieutenant Waino Mellas, because I still long to understand the combat experience, and its effects on a soldier’s psyche. For civilians, this is an experience we can only vaguely begin to understand.
But fighting alongside Lt. Mellas, through the elephant grass, the heat of the jungle, the merciless pounding of the monsoon rains that resulted in rain-soaked boots, then jungle rot, the “humping into the bush with seventy-pound of gear on one’s back” all these things give a smidgen of insight into the sheer physical challenges our soldiers in Vietnam faced.
We are also allowed into Lt. Mellas’s combat “mindset.” On p. 403, we learn “Mellas didn’t hate the NVA. He wanted to kill the enemy because that was the only way the company would get off the hill, and he wanted to live and go home. He also wanted to kill because he had a burning anger inside him with no place to go. The people who he had hated- the colonel, the politicians, the protesters, bullys who’d shamed him in childhood, little friends who’d taken his toys when he was two- weren’t available, but the NVA soldiers were … he had to admit that he wanted to kill because part of him was “thrilled by killing.” Marlantes shares a lot of brutal truths in this book.
Some of the things I learned from this novel are:
1) War is full of terror.
2) It is also full of exhilaration.
3) There are times of terrible tedium and boredom.
4) War creates the strongest of bonds among men.
5) Racism was rampant in Vietnam.
6) There is agony and despair on the loss of one’s friends.
7) War does not allow time for grief. The grieving comes later.
8) War rarely achieves the desired results.
9) War is only understood in retrospect.
I am in awe of this veteran, not only as an author, but as a man who has been able to accomplish such phenomenal things in his life after returning from Vietnam.
I believe that every combat veteran who is able to find the strength to tell their story offers us a great gift, the gift of understanding another person’s journey. Especially a story of going to hell, and coming back out again. Kudos to this author for giving us awesome, memorable characters, and an unforgettable story. Very highly recommended reading, especially in these (still) war-torn times.