REVIEW – Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes

Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes Book Cover

Title: Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

Author: Karl Marlantes

Narrator: Bronson Pinchot

Length of Audio book: 21 hours, 10 minutes

First Released: 2010

Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “Intense, powerful, and compelling, Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War is an epic war novel in the tradition of Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead and James Jones’s The Thin Red Line. It is the timeless story of a young Marine lieutenant, Waino Mellas, and his comrades in Bravo Company, who are dropped into the mountain jungle of Vietnam as boys and forced to fight their way into manhood. Standing in their way are not merely the North Vietnamese but also monsoon rain and mud, leeches and tigers, disease and malnutrition. Almost as daunting, it turns out, are the obstacles they discover between each other: racial tension, competing ambitions, and duplicitous superior officers. But when the company finds itself surrounded and outnumbered by a massive enemy regiment, the Marines are thrust into the raw and all-consuming terror of combat. The experience will change them forever.

Written by a highly decorated Marine veteran over the course of thirty years, Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War is a spellbinding and unforgettable novel that brings to life an entire world — both its horrors and its thrills — and seems destined to become a classic of combat literature.”

Comments and CritiqueMatterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War is hands-down the best book I’ve read/experienced this year. Mr. Marlantes not only explores a realistic portrayal of life as a Marine during the Vietnam War, he expands into human nature, the idea of relationships, and how ambition and race can impact them.

Through his cast of characters, their experiences, and their growth over a short period of time, Mr. Marlantes hints at questions that everyone should consider prior to committing to future wars. War is indeed hell, but who exactly does it impact/affect the most? For the Vietnam War, who exactly was the enemy? Was it truly the North Vietnamese Army, the politicians in Washington, rear command? Should we not figure this out before committing ourselves and our soldiers?

Mr. Marlantes is not afraid to present the truth in all its horror. More importantly, he forces us to evaluate the idea of ambition versus heart – something to which even a reader in high school and college can relate. Should we let ambition rule our decisions, or is heart more important? Is there room for both in our life/careers? Much like the battles and situations faced by the Marines, the answers to these questions are not easy but need to be addressed if one hopes to grow as a person, just as Mellas has to address.

What made this audio book so special was the narrator. Bronson Pinchot was fantastic. He inflected humor, respect, and emotion into each sentence. Each character not only has a unique voice, the personality shines through so clearly that the listener will always know which character is speaking through just a few words. The narration contributed greatly to my overall enjoyment of the novel and the fact that I had such a visceral reaction to the story as it unfolded. I laughed out loud, cried, gasped in horror, grew angry, and listened nervously at different points in time, all while at work. (My co-workers thought I was crazy.) It takes a lot to get me to react so violently to a book; the fact that I repeatedly reacted to it is a testament to not only the narration, but to Mr. Marlantes’ ability to tell a vivid story.

I will confess that part of my reaction is that my experiences as an Army wife helped me to be able to understand the acronyms, the organization, and life in the military. Indeed, I felt like I was living back in Germany, listening to my husband and friends share their anecdotes about their jobs and experiences as young lieutenants and captains in the Army. Mr. Marlantes is a veteran himself, and his first-hand knowledge of military life displays itself in the idiosyncrasies and the bureaucracy of the military. There is a timelessness behind these details that will make  Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War relevant for decades to come.

I have been recommended Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War to anyone who will listen. It is an amazing novel, and all of my raving is not going to do justice to this historical novel. This is one of those stories people will have to experience for themselves. I sincerely hope you do.

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9 Responses to REVIEW – Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
  1. the little reader
    June 21, 2010 | 11:09 AM

    i definitely want to read this after all of the rave reviews i've been seeing. do you think it would be a better read in print, or audiobook read?

  2. Chrisbookarama
    June 21, 2010 | 11:09 AM

    I always shy away from novels about Vietnam but this one is getting such good reviews. Maybe I should give in.

    Bronson Pinchot was a name so familiar to me I had to Google it. It's Balki from Perfect Strangers! I loved that show.
    My recent post Reading Together: Anne of Green Gables

  3. Jenn\'s Bookshelves
    June 21, 2010 | 1:31 PM

    I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Matterhorn from Powell's Indiespensable program. I just haven't had the time to read it. I contemplated buying the audio for my grandfather to listen to, I might have to do the same!
    My recent post Kicking Off Audio Book Week: Why Audio Books?

  4. jendevourerofbooks
    June 21, 2010 | 2:46 PM

    So I got bored/distracted and gave up on the print version of MATTERHORN, but now I'm really tempted to try to find the audiobook. A fantastic narrator might be JUST what I need to actually get into this book.
    My recent post Why Audiobooks? – Audiobook Week Discussion

  5. Michelle
    June 22, 2010 | 1:38 AM

    I feel that listening to it was the best way, but it takes a lot of attention in the beginning. There are a ton of characters, and until you get to know them (via the voices), then it can be quite confusing. That and the fact that the military terminology can be distracting to someone who may not be familiar with it. My years as an Army wife definitely helped me in that regard. There is a part of me that really wants to read it in print now that I have listened to it, but there is not enough time to do so, alas.

  6. Michelle
    June 22, 2010 | 1:42 AM

    I was a bit nervous when I realized who the narrator was; he was SO goofy in that show, even though I truly enjoyed it. Even after all these years, people remember Balki!

    This one is one of the most hard core I've read about Vietnam. It is akin to Black Hawk Down, or even a more brutal form of Killer Angels. It truly does showcase just what war, specifically the Vietnam War, was like. While I loved it, if you are unsure about war and all its crassness, crudeness, vulgarity, and lack of sense, then Matterhorn may not be for you.

  7. Michelle
    June 22, 2010 | 1:42 AM

    If you do, I can't wait to get your thoughts! I loved this one so much!

  8. Michelle
    June 22, 2010 | 1:49 AM

    If you already have the characters down, then I think an audio book may be just what the doctor ordered!

  9. Michelle
    June 22, 2010 | 1:50 AM

    Thanks, Kyle. I will definitely check it out!

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