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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Materhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

I just finished reading “Matterhorn,” by Karl Marlantes. The novel encompasses two months in the life of a Marine 2nd Lieutenant who has been sent to Viet Nam in the fall of 1969. It is the most compelling impossible-to-put-down novel I have ever read.

Karl Marlantes had been trying for some thirty years to get his 1,600 page manuscript published. No one was interested, until El Leon Literary Publishers in Berkeley convinced him to cut 800 pages from the manuscript.

They were proceeding with the publication of the 800 page novel as a paperback priced at $25. Prior to publication date, Marlantes entered the novel in a contest for first-time novelists. It was discovered by a buyer from Barnes & Noble who passed it on Morgan Entrekin at Grove / Atlantic. He loved the book and Grove made a deal with El Leon to co-publish the book as a hardcover. The book was released in the spring with a first production run of 60,000 hardcover.

Materhorn was on the New York Times Bestseller list for several weeks. This link to El Leon, provides a smattering of the critical acclaim that the book has garnered:  El Leon Literary

This book is great on many levels. It’s a riveting suspenseful, heartrending story. It has great diverse, well-drawn characters. (No tropes. The soldiers all sounded, smelled, acted real.) It has a cinematic scope that allows us to see events unfolding from the perspective of the grunt on the ground getting killed and from the perspective of the officers all the way up the chain of command that make the “tough” decisions.

But I think the most impressive aspect of this novel (for me) is the way Marlantes is able to convey to the reader the personal, individual terror that these kids endured day after day after day. And he shows how and why, despite that terror, they went forward following their orders, expecting to die, not for their country or some cause, but for each other.

The Marines sometimes lost all hope, but they never gave up. They never surrendered.  Neither did the author.

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