Wednesday, July 25, 2012


From Matterhorn:  

Mellas's throat ached.  Tears crowded close behind his eyelids.  But the ache was never released, and the tears never broke through.  Emptiness filled his soul." (p. 378)

For the first 378 pages of Karl Marlantes' 566-page novel, Matterhorn, I was numb, distanced, and without tears.  From page 378 on, I was with Mellas and his rifle platoon of Marines in Vietnam in 1969.  Now I'm remembering a time in the early 1970s when a friend, a Navy veteran, seeing my tears as he drank himself into oblivion,  said, "You'll have to cry for me. I can't." While still reading Matterhorn,  I bought Karl Marlantes' What It Means To Go To War.  The woman who sold me that book said that she had tried and had not been able to finish reading Matterhorn, but that she planned to try to read What It Means To Go To War.  Her face tightened with pain. 

Karl Marlantes' two books show the influence of his study of Carl Jung's writings.  This comes to mind:
If you imagine someone who is brave enough to withdraw all his projections, then you get an individual who is conscious of a pretty thick shadow. Such a man has saddled himself with new problems and conflicts. He has become a serious problem to himself, as he is now unable to say that they do this or that, they are wrong, and they must be fought against. He lives in the "House of the Gathering." Such a man knows that whatever is wrong in the world is in himself, and if he only learns to deal with his own shadow he has done something real for the world. He has succeeded in shouldering at least an infinitesimal part of the gigantic, unsolved social problems of our day.

"Psychology and Religion" (1938). In CW 11: Psychology and Religion: West and East. P.140

From What It Is Like To Go To War: 

"Maybe some veterans did feel horrible and sick every time they killed another man, just the way many people think they ought to.  I'm also sure some of the people telling me they'd feel horrible and sick could very well feel that way if they ever had to do it. But they didn't have to.  I did.  And I didn't feel that way.  And it makes me angry when people lay on me what i ought to have felt.  More important, it obscures the truth.

What I feel now, forty years later, is sadness." (p. 27)

From the back cover of What It Is Like To Go To War:

"What It Is Like To Go To War is a courageous, noble, and intelligent grapple with myth, history, and spirituality that beautifully elevates the cultural conversation on the role of the military in today's world. It is an emotional, honest, and affecting primer for all Americans on war and the national psyche, and we ignore this book at our own peril." -- Ed Conklin, Chaucer's Books, Santa Barbara

After Karl Marlantes' decades-long search for a publisher for Matterhorn, it was a woman, Kit Duane, senior editor and managing editor of El León Literary Arts, who read his book and loved it and passed it on to the publisher, Thomas Farber,  and they decided to buy it.  In an extended interview on C-SPAN, Marlantes notes that it was a series of women who first read the novel and recognized its worth, which led to it being published by Grove/Atlantic in 2010.

From What It Is Like To Go To War:

"She and my first wife shared the not uncommon and deeply disturbing experience of living with a man with post-traumatic stress disorder without knowing where all the craziness was coming from.  These women are veterans of a different war. (my italics) 

These are not easy books to read.  I woke up at 2 a.m. this morning with a delayed reaction to reading the following from What It Is Like To Go To War:

"Two nights later a dark presence entered my bedroom, waking me from a sound sleep, a presence so malignant and evil it seemed to fill the room with dark oppressive liquid, squeezing the very air from my lungs." (p. 199)

This early morning I felt that dark presence for the third time in my life.  The first time was while Richard was in Vietnam. The second time was in September of 2001 when I was on my way to visit Richard after he had been given a terminal lung cancer diagnosis.  This early morning when I felt that dark presence again, larger than ever,  I called to mind and heart Karl Marlantes and his veteran friend, Bear, the nephew of a Chumash shaman.  I recalled their courage and the way with which they dealt with that presence.  I was no longer alone.  The dark presence left.  If that's not a good enough reason to read Karl Marlantes' books, I don't know what is.

(The three paintings above were painted in gouache and watercolor by am, from my experiences as "a veteran of a different war.")

(Blogger is messing up again.  In preview, this looks fine, but when I publish it, there are a variety of fonts.  Oh well.  I'm getting better at using the new Blogger)

Update from July 27, 2012 -- Listen to Bill Moyers and Karl Marlantes:


Anonymous said...

thanks for this. great this book made its way to the surface in spite of all those who turned it down. kjm

am said...

When you have time, listen to the July 27, 2012, interview I just added to the post. It is well worth the time.