Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War - Karl Marlantes On completion:
I have written my thoughts as I progressed through this audiobook, so this will be just a short summary. As is evident from the comments below, when I began this book it caused me lots of trouble. I had trouble understanding the military jargon and acronyms. I had trouble keeping track of the numerous characters, their rank and personality traits. My confusion and the many characters made it difficult for me to empathize with any of them. I had trouble understanding what exactly was happening.

After about 1/3 of the way through the book I realized these characters had become important to me. From that point on my empathy grew in leaps and bounds. This is a war novel. That environment is perfectly described. Honestly, after listening to this book you feel you have walked and fought and suffered alongside the Marines of Bravo Company. And joked, too! I thought I had a pretty good understanding of the conditions during the Vietnam War before I read this, but no, I didn't really understand as I do now.

Don't be discouraged if the book is difficult to follow in the beginning. It is worth your effort. You need the military jargon to create the real atmosphere of that place and time. You will fall for the people, and not just one, but many of them. The author has infused humor and philosophical insights into an absolutely perfect rendition of the battles that took place in this war.

The narration of the audiobook by Jeff Harding was stupendous. It could in no way be improved. It is absolutely fantastic. Each character has just the right lilt - Marines from the South, blacks, women and even one with a Bostonian twang. Harding easily flips form one to another without hesitation.

I highly recommend this audiobook. You will learn and you will be moved. You will be torn apart, get mad, cry and laugh. Every emotion is reflected in this book. It is an absorbing experience.


Chapter Nineteen:

Did I say I couldn’t care about these people? Well, that was wrong! Oh so wrong. I really have come to care for many of them. Many of them. There are beautiful lines that pinpoint what one is thinking through the emotional turmoil. This is found in the above chapter:

Everybody dies, but not everybody cares. It occurred to Mellas that he could create the possibility of good or evil through caring………

His killing that day would not have been evil if the dead soldiers had not been loved by mothers, sisters, friends, wives. Mellas understood that in destroying the fabric that linked these people, he had participated in evil. But this evil had hurt him as well. He also understood that his participation in evil was a result of being human. Being human was the best he could do. Without man there would be no evil, but there was also no good. Nothing moral built over the world of fact. Humans were responsible for it all. He laughed at the cosmic joke, but he felt heartsick.

I am falling in love with this book. …. It is intelligent, it is moving, it is superbly executed and it captures a “place” and an experience that few of us can envision.


Chapter Fourteen:
I am crying, but I am laughing too, all at the same time:

”Ain’t you been in fuckin’ school, Jack? H²O! That’s water. You remember the stuff?! You used to drink it back in the world. Turn a little fuckin’ handle in the kitchen. It was sort of clear and had little fuckin’ bubbles in it, and you didn’t have to fuck it up with Halozon,” Malis said.

“Fuckin’ government fucked it up for you at the plant,” Palat put in.

Yes, I am crying because I have fallen in love with all these guys: Bass and Pollini and Cassidy and Furcasso and China and Mallory and Parker and Jacobs and Goodwin and Kendall and Hawk and Jackson, Murphy, McCarthy, Frederickson, Jankowitz, Pallick, Ridlow, Scar, Fitch, Broyer, and Vancouver and many, many more…. Oh Vancouver!

This book has won me over completely. It is marvelous. What can I say? If the book seems difficult tin the beginning, don’t give up.

Please forgive my misspellings!


Through Chapter Thirteen:

Now I am so engaged I do not want to stop and write anything. Yes, this is definitely a good book. A book to be praise!


Through Chapter Seven:

I have now completed the seventh chapter and I feel that after a while you just understand by repeated usage what is meant by the military jargon and acronyms. Furthermore, things are definitely happening. There is an improvement in the book. Some books take longer to get into. I also feel that the prime characters are clarifying - certain ones keep coming into focus and as you learn more about their experiences you empathize with them. And as I noted before, you certainly do get a spot-on feeling for the total environment of the place. After reading this book you feel you have walked in the jungle, hungry, bleeding, sores oozing pus, being sworn at, being told to do stupid things that make no sense at all. The wretchedness and the insanity of it all hits home.

I have listened to a little less than only 1/3 of the book. Jeff Harding’s narration is stupendous. All in one paragraph a man, woman and omniscient narrator speak. Each one has a perfect sound. He flips deftly between each.


At the beginning of Chapter Five is found the following excerpt, but please remember I am listening to the audiobook so I may make some errors:

Blakeley mentally reviewed the flip-flop plan again. Originally it has been easy. Continue the original mission with two companies in the valley snooping and pooping. Charley flip-flops with Bravo on Matterhorn and Alfa flip-flops with Delta on Eiger. Then comes the idea of the "cam-low-cluster-fuck" with everyone pulling back to to VCB to get ready for that. So that plan had to be changed. Then comes Mullvaney's compromise with Simpson, so now Bravo and Delta are going out to the valley instead of to VCB. So that plan had to be changed.

A question flickered in his mind. When was the last ration resupply for Delta on Eiger? It hadn't mattered before because Delta was originally going back to VCB with everyone else. Then it occurred to him with Charley moving back to VCB instead of to Matterhorn that left Golf Battery and battalion headquarters exposed. Albeit just briefly during the time of the flip-flop.

Now, I can't remember what VCB stands for. Neither do I know what a cam-flow-cluster-fuck is...... all I really get out of all these words is that plans have been changed! Simpson and Mullvaney are officers briefly introduced into the story along with umpteen others. I guess I am terribly stupid, but I find it extremely difficult to keep track of all these people and their respective ranks, let alone come to empathize with any one of them. I don't really even know the main character Waino Mellas, except that he is a new lieutenant who wants to rise in rank. Although he clearly want so do the "right thing", he also wants to make the right impression on the right people. Oh yes, he went to Princeton.

OK, here is my complaint. It is two-fold. Due to the "very accurate" military jargon I fail to understand what the hell is going on. My husband listened - he had the same reaction, and he is a man! Secondly there are way too many people thrown in. You feel for none of them. You don't know who is important to remember. And because there are so many people and so much text that you only sort of understand, it all turns into a blur.....that goes on and on and on and is quite tiresome. GET to the point! I even want something exciting to happen. I have been listening to this for five hours.

I do agree that this is probably a very accurate description of the situation - leeches and blood and pus and swearing and all the military acronyms. Oh God, the food they eat! I have learned about the racial inequalities that existed, and this has been an eye-opener.

I am not giving up.....not yet at least.


After one chapter:

Everybody loves this book and particularly the audiobook format narrated by Jeff Harding. But, I just want to have it said that I am a bit worried.....I have trouble with all the jargon that is unfamiliar to me. And the names too, but even Waino Mellas, the main character, has trouble keeping track of all the people in his platoon. I have only listened to one chapter. Every time I start a book, I always think I will have trouble keeping track of everything. So many people. So many names. So many terms and titles and situations so very foreign to me. I am writing this note to tell others who start this book that they might react as I do. Let's see if I end up enjoying this.