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A Forgotten War Remembered
by SeldomSeen on December 29, 2010Matterhorn 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
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