“Matterhorn” by Karl Marlantes is, in my opinion, a magnificent book.
It tells the story of Bravo Company’s time in the Vietnamese jungle, where the North Vietnamese are not the only enemy faced by these young American Marines. The physical conditions are appalling – monsoon rain, fog, cold, mud. Leeches make life miserable and tigers are a danger to the lives of the soldiers. Added to this are starvation, dehydration and infection – what absolutely dire conditions in which to live, let alone fight.
The main protagonist is Second Lieutenant Waino Mellas, who is 21 years old, when he joins Bravo Company. It is the choice of this character as the focus which gives Karl Marlantes ‘ novel such power. We see life through the eyes of “middle management” – the suspicions and difficulties of the enlisted men and NCOs grow to be of huge importance for Mellas and the comradeship of these men and others of the same status are an important aspect of the novel. Mellas also looks towards those in positions of authority over him and we feel his anger and contempt for some of the decisions and orders made by these men. Although there is plenty of military jargon within the book, it was not a hindrance for me. It certainly didn’t cause me to lose concentration on this novel that was so much more than a war story.
This was an interesting and compelling read for me; I can’t recall experiencing such a range of emotions during the reading of a book. I was a teenager in the 1960s, when the Vietnamese war took place, so many of the events that were touched upon were known to me – the protests in America and the rise of the Black Panther movement particularly. This novel has piqued my interest to find out more about this period of history and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the 1960s, as well as those who want a gritty, “real” war story.