A recent listserv request sought read-alikes for The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. This book made a big impression on me during college, and inspired me to read a spate of Vietnam War titles that included A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo and The Barracks Thief by Tobias Wolff. “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” is one of my favorite short stories.
Actually, The Things They Carried may have been my first encounter with an interconnected book of short stories. The Dew Breaker by Edwidge Danticat is another that teens would enjoy. Can anyone think of others? An upcoming title —You Know When the Men are Gone by Siobhan Fallon (Amy Einhorn/Penguin, January)–is a collection of stories focused on surviving the home front, specifically at Fort Hood.
Today’s book is an epic of the war in Vietnam; hard to believe it is a first novel.
MARLANTES, Karl. Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War. 592p. Atlantic Monthly. 2010. Tr $24.95. ISBN 978-0-8021-1928-5. LC number unavailable.
Adult/High School–Second Lieutenant Waino Mellas is fresh out of college in 1969 when he goes to serve his country in the Marine Corps. He is sent, with all of his idealism intact, to command Bravo Company in the jungles of Vietnam. Most of his soldiers are teenagers, carrying the baggage of their stateside lives while uniting against the horror of the war. Waino meets older, wiser, and infinitely cooler Hawke (he’s 22) and learns how to survive in a situation that is both ludicrous and dangerous. Matterhorn is the name of a base camp created atop a hill, now denuded of jungle foliage, that the men must capture, abandon, and re-capture, all under the orders of a soused commander who is still fighting the Korean War in his head. Teens have long been fascinated by Walter Dean Myers’s Fallen Angels, one of the few young adult books to tackle the subject of Vietnam. Matterhorn takes readers directly to the jungles, where they will begin to understand what was so different about this war. Marlantes paints a vivid picture of teenagers ripped from ordinary lives by the whimsy of the draft into a steaming, enemy-strewn jungle that threatens to kill, maim, and madden them. This impressive book is compelling reading for the generation that lived through this military conflict, but more importantly, it’s a believable simulation that brings that time alive for today’s teens.–Diane Colson, New Port Richey Library, FL