Friday, June 11, 2010

Jungle Kool-Aid

I am now 126 pages into a newly published novel about the Vietnam War, called Matterhorn. The book is by Yale graduate, Rhodes Scholar and decorated Vietnam veteran, Karl Marlantes. This is his first book, and having read less than a third of the novel’s 566 pages, I’m nonetheless willing to go out on a limb and predict it will win awards.

I’m not ready to offer any lengthy comments on the merits of this new Vietnam book, and will hold off until I’ve read the complete story. But I do want to share some of the humor built upon what I strongly suspect are true details. Coming upon the book’s first example of C-ration “cuisine” I laughed and gagged at the same time. There were no dining rooms or mess halls for the marine fire teams on jungle front lines, and meals were a concoction of C-ration favorites. Here are a few examples from Matterhorn

‘While most of the platoon was reading mail for the third time, Mellas was preparing supper…He was adding Tabasco sauce, grape jam and powdered lemon tea to his can of spaghetti and meatballs…’

‘He chewed contemplatively for a moment and then reached into his pack for the highly treasured Pickapepper sauce that had been mailed to him from home. He carefully added two drops to the cold ham, grape jelly and lima beans, stirred them in and retasted.’

‘Jancowitz took out a can of chopped eggs, added some chocolate from a Hershey Trop bar—a high-melting-point chocolate developed for the jungle—and mixed in some Tabasco and A1 sauce…then he added apricot juice, throwing the apricots and the can into the jungle.’

‘Mellas was eating some glutinous C-ration beef and potatoes mixed with applesauce and some of Bass’s carefully rationed Worcestershire sauce…’

Well, tastes are certainly different, but I have a hard time imagining that any of these foxhole recipes would leave me sitting upright, licking my lips in satisfaction.

One more passage thus far in the book impressed me with its power of description and emotional nightmare. The writer is describing marines on patrol in the jungle.

‘Their eyes flickered back and forth as they tried to look in all directions at once. They carried Kool-Aid packages, Tang—anything to kill the chemical taste of the water in their plastic canteens. Soon the smears of purple and orange Kool-Aid on their lips combined with the fear in their eyes to make them look like children returning from a birthday party at which the hostess had shown horror films.’

More about this powerful book in a later post.

1 comment:

  1. Great to know... I was considering picking it up next time I go to Borders... thanks for the recommendation.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America