Book Review: Mash by Richard Hooker

The doctors and nurses of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital treated some of the worst casualties from fighting during the Korean War. They were dedicated, good at their jobs, and entirely too young to be doing the jobs they had to do. A few cracked under the pressure while others simply raised hell. Captains Trapper John McIntyre, Hawkeye Pierce, and Duke Forrest might have been the most talented doctors that the 4077th MASH has ever seen, but they seem to take great pleasure in causing trouble. Sometimes, however, mischief might be the best way to forget the brutal war happening only a few miles away.

MASH is most well-known for being a hit movie that spawned a television show which ran for eleven years. I didn’t realize that the source for both was a book with the same title. So while I figure out a way to watch the series in the near future, I decided to read the book.

The best part of MASH were the stories of all the trouble Trapper John, Hawkeye, and Duke managed to cause while serving at the 4077th MASH and even when they were off-site. While a lot of it corresponded to the movie, there were quite a few differences as well. The mischief had a much more sinister tone in some cases and didn’t show the characters in a very good light.

I also liked that I got to see a much darker, real look at the stress of working at a MASH so close to the front lines. The men and women worked long shifts and lived with the knowledge that soldiers’ lives were literally in their hands. I could see the cracks in their tough exteriors and the doubt. This made them much more real for me.

All of that being said, this book lacked much description of the setting. I found myself referring to the movie for a mental picture of the camp more than once. I also felt like I was missing out on the smells of the mess hall, of Seoul, and of the Swamp. Looking back, I think that came from the distant third person narration.

The abundance of medical lingo also threw me for a loop. It really only happened during scenes in the operating room, but I felt a bit over my head with all of it. I wished that the information had been simplified a bit more for someone without any background in medicine.

Overall, this is book is a must for anyone who’s a fan of MASH or who just wants to read a great book about friendships formed in trying times that others in our life just wouldn’t understand.

Rating: 

MASH by Richard Hooker is published by Harper Perennial and is available in paperback.

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