The B&N Podcast: Karl Marlantes Finds Deep Family Roots among the Big Trees

Every author has a story beyond the one that they put down on paper. The Barnes & Noble Podcast goes between the lines with today’s most interesting writers, exploring what inspires them, what confounds them, and what they were thinking when they wrote the books we’re talking about.

Our guest on today’s episode is the writer Karl Marlantes, who burst onto the literary scene in 2010 with his critically acclaimed, bestselling novel Matterhorn, the story of a company of soldiers who build, abandon and retake a firebase in Vietnam. He followed that with the bestselling nonfiction work What It is Like to Go to War. Now, Marlantes has returned to fiction with Deep River, drawing on his family’s own history as political refugees from their native Finland who made their way in the logging community of the Pacific Northwest at the turn of the 20th century. Deep River is a story of siblings, of family and survival, love and ambition set in a natural world of mythic grandeur. Marlantes talked with B&N’s Miwa Messer about the true stories that inspired this epic tale — but first, she asked him to go back in time to his unusual arrival on the publishing scene, after years of writing, with Matterhorn.

Karl Marlantes’s debut novel Matterhorn has been hailed as a modern classic of war literature. In his new novel, Deep River , Marlantes turns to another mode of storytelling—the family epic—to craft a stunningly expansive narrative of human suffering, courage, and reinvention.

In the early 1900s, as the oppression of Russia’s imperial rule takes its toll on Finland, the three Koski siblings—Ilmari, Matti, and the politicized young Aino—are forced to flee to the United States. Not far from the majestic Columbia River, the siblings settle among other Finns in a logging community in southern Washington, where the first harvesting of the colossal old-growth forests begets rapid development, and radical labor movements begin to catch fire. The brothers face the excitement and danger of pioneering this frontier wilderness—climbing and felling trees one-hundred meters high—while Aino, foremost of the books many strong, independent women, devotes herself to organizing the industry’s first unions. As the Koski siblings strive to rebuild lives and families in an America in flux, they also try to hold fast to the traditions of a home they left behind.

Layered with fascinating historical detail, this is a novel that breathes deeply of the sun-dappled forest and bears witness to the stump-ridden fields the loggers, and the first waves of modernity, leave behind. At its heart, Deep River is an ambitious and timely exploration of the place of the individual, and of the immigrant, in an America still in the process of defining its own identity.

Explore all of Karl Marlantes’s books here.

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Photo of Karl Marlantes (c) Devon Marlantes.