Fire Support Base Matterhorn: a fortress carved out of the grey-green mountain jungle. Cold monsoon clouds wreath its mile-high summit, concealing a battery of 105-mm howitzers surrounded by deep bunkers, carefully constructed fields of fire and the 180 marines of Bravo Company. Just three kilometres from Laos and two from North Vietnam, there is ...
Fire Support Base Matterhorn: a fortress carved out of the grey-green mountain jungle. Cold monsoon clouds wreath its mile-high summit, concealing a battery of 105-mm howitzers surrounded by deep bunkers, carefully constructed fields of fire and the 180 marines of Bravo Company. Just three kilometres from Laos and two from North Vietnam, there is no more isolated outpost of America's increasingly desperate war in Vietnam. Second Lieutenant Waino Mellas, 21 years old and just a few days into his 13-month tour, has barely arrived at Matterhorn before Bravo Company is ordered to abandon their mountain and sent deep in-country in pursuit of a North Vietnamese Army unit of unknown size. Beyond the relative safety of the perimeter wire, Mellas will face disease, starvation, leeches, tigers and an almost invisible enemy. Beneath the endless jungle canopy, Bravo Company will confront competing ambitions, duplicitous officers and simmering racial tensions. Behind them, always, Matterhorn. The impregnable mountain fortress they built and then abandoned, without a shot, to the North Vietnamese Army...
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Gritty Vietnam novel that slowly drags you into the jungle with Bravo company. I gave in completely. You care what happens to these guys. It's also an excellent look at 1960s cultural tensions and attitudes.
Dec 29, 2010
A Forgotten War Remembered
Matterhorn by Karl Malantes is a masterpiece of a war novel. Set in any era it would be an important examination of the young men we send to fight and die for us?but set in Vietnam, that most controversial and misunderstood wars, it is the novel of that conflict. Told from the point of view of a green marine infantry lieutenant deep in the jungle, and written by a decorated combat veteran, Matterhorn is authoritative, vivid and savagely truthful.
Most war stores either glorify the heroism and patriotism of its heroes or, as more often told in the past few decades, deconstruct war into a series of postmodern absurdities and folly. Matterhorn is neither of these. And both of them. The war is foolish and unwinnable--even the lowest grunts realize this early in the story. Their commanders are vain and foolish. There?s no false sense of patriotism. In the bush it?s pure survival and the men exhibit an intensity of emotion and a wavering of conviction as only men who are risking their lives can exhibit. The protagonist and the young men under his command are by turns scared, cowardly, selfish, heroic and ambitious?often in the same battle.
Originally finished in the 70s, it took Mr. Malantes over 30 years to find a publisher for this book. Personally, I find it unbelievable that a decorated combat veteran with an Ivy League education could not get this work read or agented. Either the novel greatly benefited from 30 years of revision and polishing or, perhaps, we are only now ready to read about Vietnam with any objectivity
Nov 26, 2010
Currey, Anderson, Marlantes
Joining a distinguished list of writers who lived through then wrote about Vietnam, Karl Marlantes took about 40 years to finally deliver his epic. Certainly semi-autobiographical, reeking with authenticity, and given the balance of perspective, this story engages, informs, entertains and educates. Among the writers in this genre are Kent Anderson, who writes with more raw passion and violence, and Richard Currey, who waited about 20 years to write his novelistic remembrance, which is being celebrated by a 20th anniversary edition. "Matterhorn" follows these and other Vietnam chronicles (One to Count Cadence, e.g.) with its own special insights and greatly entertaining writing. Highly recommended.
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