Last week while I posted snippets from my trip to Vietnam 20 years ago, I was also engrossed in Karl Marlantes’ debut novel, Matterhorn (El Leon/Atlantic Monthly, 2010).
The story follows US Marine Lieutenant Waino Mellas, a naive Ivy-educated patriot who’s plopped down on Matterhorn, a mountainous jungle near Vietnam’s DMZ.
It’s a chunky novel and brings the reader directly into the firing line with little backstory in the beginning. Leeches, c-rations, fungus, and extreme temperatures are just some of the challenges Mellas encounters his first few days.
Not to mention the killing and maiming that come with war.
What drew me to Marlantes’ novel wasn’t just story of how Mellas’ view of the war changed over the course of two months, but Marlantes’ own journey in publishing this book.
Like his protagonist, Marlantes was a highly-decorated Ivy-educated Marine. But he claims the similarities stop there. He finished Matterhorn in 1977 and looked for a publisher then. He was told that Hollywood was finished with Vietnam, that no one cared about Vietnam anymore, and that if he changed his setting to Afghanistan (this was in the current century), he might be able to sell it.
But he never gave up. With the support of his wife, who encouraged him to enter Matterhorn in contests and send it to small presses, he finally found a home for his manuscript at non-profit El Leon in Berkeley.
It’s become a best seller and was listed as one of Amazon’s top ten novels in 2010. After reading Matterhorn, I can better appreciate the harsh realities of war (leeches, c-rations, fungus, extreme temperatures, not to mention the killing and maiming that come with war).
I can also appreciate the dedication and drive that some authors endure to get their work published. I can’t wait to read Marlantes’ next novel.