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Mash: A Novel About Three Army Doctors

1 rating: 2.0
A 1958 book by Richard Hooker.

Before the movie, this is the novel that gave life to Hawkeye Pierce, Trapper John, Hot Lips Houlihan, Frank Burns, Radar O'Reilly, and the rest of the gang that made the 4077th MASH like no other place in Korea or on earth. The doctors who worked … see full wiki

Tags: Books, Richard Hooker, Mash
Author: Richard Hooker
Publisher: Harper Perennial
1 review about Mash: A Novel About Three Army Doctors

"'Stop looking at those pictures, Reverend,' commanded Hawkeye."

  • Apr 19, 2011
There once was an American named H. Richard Hornberger (1924 – 1997). A medical doctor, he served as such with the U.S. Army during the Korean war in the 8055th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. Does Mobile Army Surgical Hospital sound disturbingly familiar to you? Perhaps you know the institution better by its acronym M.A.S.H or MASH.

For eleven years Richard Hornberger slaved away writing a novel and shopping it in vain from publisher to publisher. Finally, in 1968 the book appeared in print, with Hornberger calling himself Richard Hooker. In some later editions, M.A.S.H had the subtitle, "A NOVEL ABOUT THREE ARMY DOCTORS." And that is what M.A.S.H. or MASH is: a novel about three surgeons in a mythical Eighth Army Mobiile Surgical Hospital numbered 4077.

The 4077th's location: the Republic of Korea on the 38th Parallel of Latitude dividing Korea in two, 45 miles north of the Southern Capital Seoul. Novel's time is from mid-November 1951 until 16 or so months later when two of the "three Army Doctors," 30 year old Captain Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce and 31 year old Captain Augustus Bedford "Duke" Forrest return to their families in, respectively, Maine and Georgia. They leave behind their brilliant chest surgeon friend Captain John "Trapper John" McIntyre, moping about with no more male bonding to sustain him for almost six more months of near-front line service still to go.

In his Foreword, author Hornberger/Hooker wrote:

"The surgeons in the MASH hospitals were exposed to extremes of hard work, leisure, tension, boredom, heat, cold, satisfaction and frustration that most of them had never faced before. Their reaction ... was to cope with situation and get the job done. ... A few flipped their lids, but most of them just raised hell, in a variety of ways and degrees. This is a story of some of the ways and degrees. It's also a story of some of the work."

Two years after novel's publication, MASH became a feature film directed by Robert Altman. It starred Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould with a strong supporting cast. It won one of the five Academy Awards for which it was nominated. The film was widely taken as commentary on the war in Viet-Nam.

Then came eleven seasons, 1972 - 1983 of the television series M*A*S*H, starring Alan Alda as Hawkeye Pierce. Novel author Hornberger/Hooker is reported to have loved the movie but to have disliked the TV series.

All three incarnations of MASH focus to different extents on the three surgeons Hawkeye, Duke and Trapper John, on Medical Officer in Chief LTC Henry Blake, on signalman Corporal Radar O'Reilly, red-headed Catholic Chaplain John Patrick "Dago Red" Mulcahy, and on Chief Nurse Major Margaret "Hot Lips" O'Houlihan. Hawk Eye, Duke and Trapper John room together in a bachelor's tent called the Swamp, with them being the Swampmen. Their surgical output is prodigious and usually successful. The amount of alcohol the three friends consume is beyond computation. Their insubordination is laid out in considerable detail.

At novel's end Hawkeye and Duke are traveling together from Korea via Japan to the United States for reuniting with their wives and children. It is dawning on both that their days of companionable revery are drawing to a close. There will be few future opportunities in their hum drum Stateside careers for horseplay. But out of about to be shed habit, the two friends make time for one or two final pranks. To avoid certain unpleasant inspections imposed on all medical doctors on route home with a troop ship of 3,000 men, Duke and Hawkeye put Chaplains' crosses on their Eisenhower jackets. Sharing a cabin with four other returning non-Medical officers, Hawkeye tells his new mates that Duke had "come down with the clap" and needs a dose of Auromycin. "Chaplain" Duke has to be ready to marry the Bishop's daughter on return to Kokomo, Indiana. Meanwhile Captain Forrest is leafing through a girlie magazine. "'Stop looking at those pictures, Reverend,' commanded Hawkeye" (Ch. 15).

And so it goes throughout MASH. One adventure after another.

I would rate MASH Four Stars except that the author has a tin ear for regional variants of spoken American English. All his characters with two exceptions (both Georgians and they are caricatures) sound alike, as if they come from the same white neighborhood in the North Central United States. The tin earishness of MASH contrasts mightily with the brilliant oral localisms of Shakespeare's HENRY IV and HENRY V and Kipling's SOLDIERS THREE and STALKY & CO. Call MASH Kipling lite. It does not rise to the ranks of three-dimensional literature, though it is very amusing betimes.


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