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Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War

I just finished reading Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, written by Karl Marlantes. I’m not a veteran, but I would describe this as an honest, gritty, profanity-laden, accurate description of the Vietnam War. Marlantes, who is a veteran, has a knack for bringing out the little-known details of a soldier’s experience, providing a new look as to what it must have been like to be a U.S. Marine in Vietnam.

Marlantes is an interesting writer who seems to naturally embed wisdom and insights into his writing.

“Look. Everyone wants a medal. That’s no sin. When I first got here, I wanted one, too. It’s just that after you’ve been out here long enough to see what they cost, they don’t seem so f—ing shiny.”

Sometimes I found myself highlighting just one pithy statement in the middle of some intense dialogue:

The only thing that hurts about a rebuke is the truth.

At other times, a statement made in context of the military makes complete sense when applied to many other areas of life, including business.

“Intelligence, Lieutenant,” Simpson went on, “is built up by the fastidious collection of minutiae. You understand that, don’t you? It isn’t the result of spectacular finds. It’s the result of hard work, constant attention to detail—to minutiae. Mi-nu-tiae.”

But what surprised me most about the book were Marlantes’ honest observations and analyses of racial tensions during that time. I found myself highlighting those sections the most.

“Not being prejudiced is the best any of us can do right now. It’s too late about being racist.”

“We won’t be free of racism until my black skin sends the same signals as Hawke’s red mustache.”

“All you got to do is start treating us like everyone else. It’s as simple as that. We don’t need nothing special… We’re people. Just treat us like people. We’re no dumber than you and we’re no smarter.”

The content of this book isn’t for everyone, but I really enjoyed it. I made a connection with the characters of the book, who are no doubt based on real people from Marlantes’ actual experiences in Vietnam. I think Marlantes gave us a real view into a short period of his life, and I’m grateful that he did. I was just sorry to see the book end.

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