A Book to Buy: Matterhorn (updated)

By James Fallows

A look just now at the preview of Sebastian Junger's rave review in this Sunday's NYT Book Review filled me with happiness, comradely pride, anticipation, and a note of chagrin. The review is of Matterhorn, a new novel of the Vietnam war, by Karl Marlantes (below), which Mark Bowden of the Atlantic had also extolled in a special Amazon commentary. ("There are passages in this book that are as good as anything I have ever read," etc.) Junger's version is that the book may be "one of the most profound and devastating novels ever to come out of Vietnam -- or any war."  The author:

Marlantes.jpg

The book:

MatterhornCover.jpg

Happiness, because of the appearance of what is by all reports a great new book. Comradely pride that a project now more than 40 years in gestation has come to such a successful conclusion. Marlantes, who was from a tiny coastal town in Oregon, had gone to Yale in the mid-60s and then to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, in the class just before Bill Clinton's. He left to join the Marines and saw intense combat in Vietnam. His citation for the Navy Cross is here. He then went back to Oxford in the early 1970s. I met him there, where he tried to explain what he had seen to those of us who hadn't - and had mainly opposed the war. He said he knew he would have to write the story out. Eight* U.S. presidents have come and gone, socialist Vietnam is increasingly hard to tell from a capitalist bazaar; and now Karl Marlantes has finished and apparently perfected his book. This kind of long-run saga does not always turn out so well.

My anticipation is of course to see what is in the book. The note of chagrin? I actually have a copy of the book at home but had not yet started reading it -- and didn't bring it with me on a current long trip. Drat. But -- ahah! -- I see that it's available on Kindle! [Thirty seconds later:] I see the first page now.

UPDATE: A good interview of Marlantes with Steve Scher of KUOW in Seattle, here. Among other things it clearly conveys his affability and good humor.
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* OK, we're on our eighth US president during Marlantes' time with the book, from Nixon through Obama. But since one of them is still in place, it's not quite right that eight have come and gone. Still, it's been a long time. Also, pending the time that our "category" feature is revived and I can link to others in the "Book List" series, I'll give a gentle reminder for this book.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/04/a-book-to-buy-matterhorn-updated/38378/