Book Review of Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War
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Helpful Score: 2


While I've never been one to read books about war, I was intrigued by all of the glowing reviews for "Matterhorn" and decided to give it a try. The fact that my scant knowledge of the history of the Vietnam War didn't extend far beyond the knowledge that it was basically a bloodbath also served as a catalyst to crack this open. I'm really happy that I did because not only did I learn quite a bit about the war but this also happens to be one of the best books I've read in quite some time.

Upon reading the Matterhorn's first few sentences you are immediately thrust into the middle of battle, chopping through 6 foot tall jungle, fearful of what horrors lie ahead. You can sense the inner turmoil each of your fellow soldiers feels as they try and remain focused on the task at hand despite the overwhelming trepidation welling up within them...Thinking about their families anxiously awaiting their return home...Listening intently for the faintest of sounds that may signal the enemy's approach...Wondering what they're fighting for in the first place. Remember that amazing opening scene in "Saving Private Ryan" where you see through the eyes of a soldier storming the beach at Normandy? Now imagine reliving the Vietnam War in a similar fashion, over the course of nearly 600 brutally honest, gripping, tension filled pages.

Marlantes, a Vietnam vet who to this day suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of his experiences, has managed to write what feels to me to be an incredibly authentic tale of Bravo Company's experiences during the war. Severely graphic at times, I found myself cringing at the brutal and terrifying accounts of battle. While this story is a work of fiction, Marlantes does indicate in a 2010 interview with the London Times that many of the events described were based off of his own experiences, which makes the stories all that more frightening.

Not only does Marlantes manage to tell an amazing tale of war, but he adeptly tells the story from many points of view. We see war through the eyes of African American soldiers who find themselves fighting not only the Northern Vietnamese Army, but also intense racism from within their own Company. We experience what it was like to be a field nurse, running from victim to victim, having to choose which soldiers to save vs. which to let die, due to the limited medical supplies on hand. We feel the intense pressure of leading a Company of men to battle despite not agreeing with decisions made by their superiors. We listen in on meetings as commanders determine the fate of their troops while also keeping in mind how each decision will enhance or hurt their chances of advancement within the ranks. And finally, we see through the eyes of the troops as they witness their friends being brutally murdered before their eyes.

Having never fought in a war I realize that I can never truly comprehend what Marlantes went through, however I am very thankful that he took the time to write this novel, which must have been an incredibly painful task. "Matterhorn" is a tense and thrilling must read for those looking to learn more about the Vietnam War and what our troops experienced in defense of our country.

I'll leave you now with a powerful quote that sums up the novel very nicely:

"It was all absurd, without reason or meaning. People who didn't know each other were going to kill each other over a hill none of them cared about."