Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War is a novel by American author and decorated Marine Karl Marlantes. It was first published by El Leon Literary Arts in . The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes Dispatches by Michael Herr A Rumor Of War by Philip Caputo The Quiet American by. Roger Perkins on Karl Marlantes’s Matterhorn, an anger-fuelled Vietnam War tale of camaraderie and conflict.
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I n the summer ofKarl Marlantes, a recently demobilised Vietnam veteran posted to US Marine Corps headquarters after 13 months of highly decorated active service, found himself walking some sensitive military papers across to the Capitol. He was challenged by a group of young anti-war protesters “hollering obscenities”, chanting “babykiller” and waving north Vietnamese flags.
Six weeks before, I was killing North Vietnamese guerrillas in combat. I just wanted to tell my story”. The national trauma matterhodn the war was dragging on and he intended to address something huge in the life mattterhorn contemporary America. The Democrats were anti-war and the Republicans supported our troops. It shaped mtaterhorn generation, at least, and conditioned our response to things like Iraq and Afghanistan.
ByMarlantes had completed a massive, first-person narrative, full, he says, of “psychobabble” and an unmediated bitterness that he’s now embarrassed to contemplate.
No publisher would touch it. So he went back to a second draft, and a third…. Finally, 35 years after he first sat down at his manual typewriter — by now divorced and in his 60s — he completed the novel that’s called Matterhorna debut that has been hailed by American critics as the definitive Vietnam novel of our times — “One of the most profound marlantss devastating novels ever to come out of Vietnam” New York Msrlantes.
The title is derived from the codename for a remote, mountainous military outpost, a “firebase”, near the demilitarised zone DMZ separating North and South Vietnam and the Laos border, not unlike the notorious Hillor Hamburger Hill.
They are led by matterhonr young second lieutenant named Waino Mellas, who has much in common with Marlantes: Mellas volunteers for the Marine Corps and, wet behind the ears, takes command of a platoon in the north-west corner of South Mxrlantes during the rainy season ofjust as Marlantes did. When Marlantes began to commit this experience to paper, the books that influenced him, he says, were the classics: It’s amazing how that war, and writers like Sassoon, Graves and David Jones [ In Parenthesis matterhlrn, have shaped our image and understanding of war.
The first world war was the first mechanised war. Survival was more about luck than skill. Where the shells burst. And that was my experience, too. While Marlantes was painfully translating his tour of duty into fiction throughout the 70s and 80s, supporting himself by working as an energy kalr, the US was coming to terms, creatively, with its national nightmare.
The first successful account of Vietnam occurred in non-fiction, inwith Michael Herr’s Dispatchesa landmark volume of reportage based on Herr’s visits to Khe Sanh for Esquire at roughly the same time that Marlantes was attacking his Matterhorn. Herr’s achievement was to marlanfes a voice in which to describe an unimaginable apocalypse.
Then I heard an M16 on full automatic, starting to go through clips, a second to fire, three to plug in a fresh clip, and I saw a man out there, doing it. Every round was like a tiny concentration of high-velocity wind, making the bodies wince and shiver.
From this kind of psyched-up non-fiction, it was a short step to the movies, the first art form to undertake the excruciating process of imagining the unimaginable. Marlantes remembers that “in their surreal way” the movies of the 70s and 80s helped to focus his imagination and give it permission to roam at will across the no-man’s land of America’s historic defeat.
For Marlantes, The Deer Hunter was “a fine piece of movie making”, but nothing to do with his Vietnam, as he understood it. Instead, it was the next generation of drama, about the second world war, for example Band of Brothersthat would make the biggest impression. The moral drive of fiction is faithfully to “get it right” through the contrivance of making it up. Ideally, the novelist must be Everyman to convey the essence of a situation in a universal language.
This is a tall order when it comes to a subject that is both intrinsically unsharable not everyone can be a GI and innately unimaginable few ex-soldiers want to talk or write about what they have seen and done.
At the same time, a writer needs tranquillity and perspective in which to recollect the emotion. The bigger the trauma, the longer the necessary perspective. Marlantes continued to wrestle with his magnum opus, in draft after draft, occasionally questioning his fitness for an impossible task. Others were beginning to find their voices. Ron Kovic wrote Born on the Fourth of July during one hectic month in the mids.
Unlike Herr, always a reporter, it was a first-hand expression of combat, a veteran’s autobiography that raised the bar for getting to grips with the graveyard called Nam. In his foreword, Caputo set out his artistic credo.
A Rumor of War was not a history or a “historical accusation”. It was, he said, conscripting the language of fiction, “a story about war, based on personal experience”. The narrative moves from a rational, semi-detached opening entitled “A Splendid Little War”, through a section depicting the madness of war “The Officer in Charge of the Dead” to a full-blown nightmare “In Death’s Grey Land” in which the Caputo character is accused of shooting Vietcong suspects and faces a court martial.
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
Eventually, the charges are dropped and Caputo is reassigned to a desk job followed by an honourable discharge. An epilogue addresses the memories awakened by the fall of Saigon in A Rumor of War was possibly the first time a former serving officer had addressed the role of the marines in Vietnam. Merlantes, also a marine, and proud if it, acknowledges that Matterhorn builds on Caputo’s groundwork. By the mids, the war in Vietnam was becoming lost in the slipstream of history.
All that remained of a national tragedy were the terrible craters left by the B52s and the rusting military hardware on the beach at Da Nang. The memory of the war was kept alive by veterans’ rage, investigative journalism and the quest for war crimes. In fiction, meanwhile, the platoon was beginning to emerge as the definitive unit of humanity in the face of battle. In “Good Form”, the narrator introduces a new element into writing about Vietnam, drawing a distinction between “story truth” and “happening truth”, an allusion to Daniel Defoe’s famous description of the novel as “lying like truth”.
O’Brien seems to be arguing that telling a story which is technically inaccurate yet truthful about the sensation of war — as opposed to baldly stating the facts of a situation — is the more honest way to report the veterans’ experience, while at the same time assuaging the writer’s conscience. In relation to this distinction, Marlantes says of his fictional mountain: It’s every hill in Vietnam.
I’ve tried to explain what it was like. Sometimes it was so hard I would start to cry at my typewriter and say, ‘I can’t do it. O’Brien, Caputo and Kovic, among others, universalised Vietnam — whose jargon passed into the common currency of the time — as a shorthand for the madness of a jungle war. The US, meanwhile, continued slowly to come to terms with its past. The election of Bill Clinton, who had not served in the military, inwas one kind of milestone on the road to national sanity.
But the war would not go away. InGeorge W Bush’s alleged “draft dodging” became a campaign issue, though not a decisive one. InJohn Kerry attempted to capitalise on his career in the military and was unceremoniously “swiftboated” by Republican veterans.
As the US continued to make peace with its past, Marlantes continued to write and rewrite his manuscript. After Iraq, so alienated from war had the public become that some publishers to whom he showed his work advised him to cut it in half and relocate it in Afghanistan. But he refused to deviate from his course. Now, with maturity and distance, I had come to love them all. Many books and films about Vietnam have been unable to suppress a persistent strain of fear and loathing for the place.
For Marlantes, the impulse was to celebrate a noble sacrifice and to make his novel an act of homage to the fallen. There is nothing derogatory about Matterhorn. With the passage of time, too, he had found a way to deal with the unmentionable face of conflict — the inevitable racism of the frontline where whites were fighting alongside black troops.
Truthful and painful or not, still nobody was interested in the story he was telling.
Remarkably, after more than 30 years, the novel exudes a desperate fury as Marlantes drags the reader and Bravo Company through firefight after firefight. Combat is not Marlantes’s deepest subject. Metaphysically, he wants to grapple with the relationship of killing to the nature of evil.
In a key passage, he writes: So, too, was the world. Evil, then, mattrhorn be the negation of something man had added to the world. Ultimately, it was caring about something that made the world liable to evil.
And then the caring gets torn asunder. Everybody dies, but not everybody cares. It occurred to Mellas that he could create the possibility of good or evil through caring. He could nullify the indifferent world. But in so doing he opened himself up to the pain of watching it get blown away. But even after 35 years, his life’s work was no nearer publication. The typescript was a beast, some 1, pages.
No one wanted it. His luck began to turn. Entrekin also persuaded Marlantes to cut and sharpen his battered manuscript from to printed pages in one final edit. Marlantes has been rewarded for his determination to tell his story: The msrlantes tide marlantess turning towards Vietnam stories again. For instance, Tatjana Soli’s forthcoming first novel The Lotus Eaters, set during the fall of Saigon, tells the story of a female war photographer who must choose between her Vietnamese lover and her journalist ex-boyfriend.
So he went back to a second draft, and a third… Finally, 35 years after he first sat down at his manual typewriter — by now divorced and in his 60s — he completed the novel that’s called Matterhorna debut that has been hailed by American critics as the definitive Vietnam novel of our times — “One of the most profound and devastating novels ever to come out of Vietnam” New York Times.
Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes | Book review | Books | The Guardian
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