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Mother Night [Kindle Edition]

Kurt Vonnegut
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (236 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Best known now by the 1996 Nick Nolte film of the same title, Mother Night (1961) is a dazzling narrative of false, shifting identity. The story tells of the odyssey of Howard Campbell, Jr., the book's protagonist, and is a paradigm of shifting loyalties, ambiguous commitment, and tales of personal compromise. Campbell is an American emigre in Germany at the time of Hitler's ascension; he is married to a German, his relations with the Nazi regime are excellent, and he agrees to spy for them and to become a broadcaster for the regime; but then, increasingly disaffected, Campbell becomes a double agent, then perhaps a triple agent, sending coded messages to the Allies.

After the War, he is tried for war crimes but is exonerated. The novel is written in memoir format from the point of view of the exiled Campbell, who, indifferent to outcome, plots suicide.

Here is a moral tale without a moral, or perhaps, according to Vonnegut, a tale with several morals. Vonnegut, a science fiction writer in his early career, knew the science fiction community very well, and it is more or less accepted that the conflicted and indecipherable Howard Campbell is modeled upon John W. Campbell, Jr. (1910-1971), the great editor of Astounding and Analog whose decades long rightward drift led him to endorse George Wallace in 1968.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) is one of the most beloved American writers of the twentieth century. Vonnegut's audience increased steadily since his first five pieces in the 1950s and grew from there. His 1968 novel Slaughterhouse-Five has become a canonic war novel with Joseph Heller's Catch-22 to form the truest and darkest of what came from World War II.

Vonnegut began his career as a science fiction writer, and his early novels--Player Piano and The Sirens of Titan--were categorized as such even as they appealed to an audience far beyond the reach of the category. In the 1960s, Vonnegut became closely associated with the Baby Boomer generation, a writer on that side, so to speak.

Now that Vonnegut's work has been studied as a large body of work, it has been more deeply understood and unified. There is a consistency to his satirical insight, humor and anger which makes his work so synergistic. It seems clear that the more of Vonnegut's work you read, the more it resonates and the more you wish to read. Scholars believe that Vonnegut's reputation (like Mark Twain's) will grow steadily through the decades as his work continues to increase in relevance and new connections are formed, new insights made.

ABOUT THE SERIES

Author Kurt Vonnegut is considered by most to be one of the most important writers of the twentieth century. His books Slaughterhouse-Five (named after Vonnegut's World War II POW experience) and Cat's Cradle are considered among his top works. RosettaBooks offers here a complete range of Vonnegut's work, including his first novel (Player Piano, 1952) for readers familiar with Vonnegut's work as well as newcomers.


Editorial Reviews

Review

"[A] splendid assault on altruistic bigots" -- Benjamin De Mott New York Times "A brilliant, wacky ideas-monger" Observer "Black satire of the highest polish" Guardian "One of the best living American writers" Graham Greene "A cool writer, at once throwaway and passionate and very funny" Financial Times

About the Author

Kurt Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis in 1922 and studied biochemistry at Cornell University. During WWII, as a prisoner of war in Germany, he witnessed the destruction of Dresden by Allied bombers, an experience which inspired Slaughterhouse Five. He died in 2007.

Product Details

  • File Size: 947 KB
  • Print Length: 290 pages
  • Publisher: RosettaBooks (August 21, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005IHWB5C
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #19,402 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
221 of 227 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
To the best of my knowledge, there really is no other writer quite like Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Mother Night appears to be a rather straightforward, albeit quirky, novel at first glance, but as one delves down into the heart of Vonnegut's prose one finds grounds for contemplation of some of life's most serious issues. This novel is the first-hand account of Howard Campbell, Jr., a most remarkable character. Campbell is an American-born citizen who moved to Germany as a child and became the English-speaking radio mouthpiece for Nazi Germany during World War II. In the fifteen years since the end of the war, he has been living an almost invisible life in a New York City attic apartment. He misses his German wife Helga who died in the war, sometimes thinks about his pre-war life as a successful writer of plays and poems, and perhaps just waits for history to find him once again. As we begin the novel, he has been found and is writing this account from a jail cell in Israel, awaiting trial for his crimes against humanity. While he is reviled by almost everyone on earth as an American Nazi traitor, the truth is that he was actually an agent working for the American government during the war; this is a truth he cannot prove, though. Thus, in this 1961 novel, the hero is ostensibly a Nazi war criminal.
The primary moral of Mother Night, Vonnegut tells us in his introduction, is that "we are what we pretend to be" and should thus be pretty darned careful about what we are pretending to be (a secondary moral being the less enlightening statement "when you're dead, you're dead"). In the eyes of the entire world, Campbell is exactly what he pretended to be during the war, a traitorous Nazi purveyor of propaganda who mocked and demoralized allied troops as well as regular citizens.
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55 of 58 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
"My name is Howard W. Campbell, Jr. I am an American by birth, a Nazi by reputation, and a nationless person by inclination" are the opening words to Kurt Vonnegut's tale of an American playwright living in Germany who, once World War II begins, becomes a Nazi radio propagandist. He becomes infamous for his disgustingly brutal radio shows which distributed wicked Nazi propaganda. He was thoroughly hated by the Americans, and loved by the Nazis. But there is one thing that you should know about Howard W. Campbell. He is an American spy. His radio shows are the medium for transmitting secret codes out of Germany to aid the American cause in the war. He was one of the most effective spies of World War II, and one of the only ones to survive the war. But after the war, he is simply discarded in a small New York attic apartment, with enough money to live the rest of his days there, but with no more direction to his life. He lives his life simply there, away from civilization and anyone who might recognize him as a war criminal, until a white supremacist discovers where he is located, and he once again must face his past. Mother Night is not a traditional war book, for rather than concentrating on the brutal aspects of combat, it focuses heavily on the equally gruesome subject of hate. Vonnegut also dissects the schizophrenic mind of a spy after the war has ended who has not only lost the trust of everyone he loves, but most importantly, his identity altogether, as he realizes he is a "nationless" person. The narrator is constantly questioning his identity, which has been muddled by his spy experiences. Read more ›
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48 of 53 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a probing tale January 23, 2001
Format:Paperback
"Mother Night" by Kurt Vonnegut is a probing tale (a parable perhaps) about the difference between appearances and reality.
"Mother Night" is actually one of three books I have recently read (or reread) that deal with the dichotomy between appearance and truth. "Mother Night" is clearly the least subtle book as far as advancing an argument...yet it is far and away the most powerful. Vonnegut navigates this ethical minefield in an entertaining, yet sobering manner.
"Mother Night" tells the story of an American playwright who is enlisted to be a spy within World War II Germany. The playwright becomes part of the upper crust of Nazi society. Working as a talk-radio personality, he encodes top secret information in his pro-Nazi broadcasts. In so doing, he helps to bring about the eventual victory of the Allies.
The war-time story-line of "Mother Night" is told in retrospect by the playwright who is living a secluded life in 1960's New York City. The reason he must live in hiding is that his Allied contact person during the war disappeared. He has no one left to testify to the fact that he worked for the Allies.
The story takes off in grand Vonnegutian style as the "protagonist" of the story is discovered simultaneously by Nazi-hunters, Soviet agents, white supremacists, and a woman claiming to be his ex wife.
Through it all, Vonnegut asks hard questions about what action, motivation, intent, and reality have to do with reality.
I found this book to be eye-opening. It is engagingly told; containing passages of great beauty, sorrow, and even humor. I recommend this book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars trenchant indictment of human capacity and preference for ignorance
That's all.

(I guess that's not "all." Amazon says that I must write 18 more words.) This is Vonnegut's most poignant work.

There... Read more
Published 10 days ago by Jason
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
My favorite Vonnegut book by far.
Published 12 days ago by Laura
5.0 out of 5 stars Hidden from History
Fantastic Vonnegut. A story of post-war time confusion. One of my favorites. Makes you think of all those that are/were in similar situations.
Published 19 days ago by oioi123
4.0 out of 5 stars I did enjoy this book
I did enjoy this book. I enjoyed the writers style and his way of achieving social commentary while still telling the story. He wasn't preachy, but still managed to make you think.
Published 22 days ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Good story
Published 26 days ago by jam1936
5.0 out of 5 stars For Crimes Against Myself
God Bless you, Mr. Vonnegut. W
A heartbreaking tale of morality, and one man's journey to seek justice and penance for crimes against humanity. Crimes that he committed.
Published 29 days ago by Evan Clark
5.0 out of 5 stars One cannot escape one's conscience
Despite being handed the legal defense needed to exonerate himself for his war crimes, it is Campbell's conscience that propels his sense of justice, his life's choice and... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Michael Milford
5.0 out of 5 stars Absurd, true and a good read.
THIS IS THE ONLY story of mine whose moral I know. I don't think it's a marvelous moral; I simply happen to know what it is: We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Peter S. Bradley
4.0 out of 5 stars brilliant
Vonnegut crafts another masterpiece in this novel revolving around spies during WWII. His cynical, creative take on morality and social issues is refreshing and intriguing.
Published 1 month ago by Satisfied
5.0 out of 5 stars The best of the Best
Hysterically funny, heart-breakingly sad, human foibles embodied in numerous colorful characters. A KV masterpiece!
Published 1 month ago by James A Reid
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More About the Author

Kurt Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis in 1922. He studied at the universities of Chicago and Tennessee and later began to write short stories for magazines. His first novel, Player Piano, was published in 1951 and since then he has written many novels, among them: The Sirens of Titan (1959), Mother Night (1961), Cat's Cradle (1963), God Bless You Mr Rosewater (1964), Welcome to the Monkey House; a collection of short stories (1968), Breakfast of Champions (1973), Slapstick, or Lonesome No More (1976), Jailbird (1979), Deadeye Dick (1982), Galapagos (1985), Bluebeard (1988) and Hocus Pocus (1990). During the Second World War he was held prisoner in Germany and was present at the bombing of Dresden, an experience which provided the setting for his most famous work to date, Slaughterhouse Five (1969). He has also published a volume of autobiography entitled Palm Sunday (1981) and a collection of essays and speeches, Fates Worse Than Death (1991).

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