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A Sacred Space

by Mackubin Thomas Owens

What It Is Like to Go to War, by Karl Marlantes (Atlantic Monthly, 272 pp., $25)

About three years ago, Karl Marlantes asked me whether I would review the manuscript of his novel, Matterhorn, about Vietnam, and write a dust-jacket blurb for it if I liked it. I agreed and was soon immersed in one of the finest war novels I have ever read. Here’s some of what I wrote for the publisher: “I had the honor of serving in the same battalion as Karl Marlantes in Vietnam. There he proved himself to be one hell of a Marine. With Matterhorn, he proves himself to be one hell of a novelist. . . . No other novel about Vietnam — including Jim Webb’s Fields of Fire — does a better job of capturing the essence of what it meant to be a ‘grunt’ in Vietnam than Matterhorn.”

I must confess that although I was overwhelmed by the power of the novel, I really didn’t think that there would be much of a market for a work about one unpopular war just as another was winding down. It’s a good thing I wasn’t Marlantes’s literary agent, because I was dead wrong: Matterhorn became and remains a best seller.

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