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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 28, 2002
Palm Sunday is exactly what it is advertised - an autobiographical collage. KV tells his life story through bits and pieces of short stories, interviews, and ancestral writings. It gives you insight into his motivations from various points of view. The origins of all the plots of all his novels are revealed through him recounting his life experiences, the people he knew, the things he's seen. I feel as if all his novels I've read were clues in some elaborate murder mystery, and the long sought missing link has suddenly been revealed, and I now understand the butler did it.
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2002
It's hard to call this book anything but average, especially for Kurt Vonnegut. In fact, when it comes right down to it, it's even hard to call this a book. This is a collection of speeches and assorted writings that have been compiled and thrown together between 2 covers. There is some new material (mainly commentary) intermingled among these speeches and essays. That commentary is probably the most entertaining aspect of the whole book.
All in all this rates as an average of all the material included, and that average is no more or less than, well, thoroughly average. 3 stars. By giving it 3 stars I think it says the book is worth reading. But it's clearly not worth getting too excited about. No, this is not one of Vonnegut's greatest works. But it is interesting at spots.
In this book Vonnegut touches on all sorts of things, but as many seasoned KV readers will know, it would not be a vintage Vonnegut without mentioning Dresden, Indianapolis, and his son Mark's insanity. All 3 make numerous appearances in the book. It could probably be argued that the name of this book should be exactly that: Dresden, Indianapolis, and Mark's Insanity.
But it's not. It's called Palm Sunday for whatever reason. In it, he rates all of his works to date and I think he does a fair job doing so. For this one, he gives himself a C+, which is fair enough. He also said it took 6 years. If time is an indicator, I'll give him an A for effort.
Those interested in getting to know Vonnegut from the start should try The Sirens of Titan, Cat's Cradle, or Slaughterhouse-5. Those 3 are vintage Vonnegut and worth every good word ever expressed about them. Those who have read all of his fiction works and are looking to peer even deeper into his writings should indeed read this. But do so with the grain of knowledge that this is not his best collection of words.
As much as I have not praised this book it is still worth the read. But I try to paint a fair picture of who should read it. In a nutshell, people who have read many other Vonnegut works should read this one to complete the list of books he has written. Those new to Vonnegut should move on to something more well-crafted and ingenious.
My conclusion? Worth the read, but after you've done some other reading first.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 2, 2013
"Palm Sunday" is a book that dedicated Vonnegut fans should read, but not the casual reader. I imagine they would not appreciate what Vonnegut is doing here. The book is subtitled an "autobiographical collage", and that is an apt description. It is nonfiction, with the exception of two short humorous creative pieces that Vonnegut throws in. It has hints at the bitterness that would come to swallow up Vonnegut's' later works, but it had not consumed him yet when he wrote "Palm Sunday".
One of the most interesting aspects of the text is when Vonnegut lies about himself. For instance, he states that there were no other women involved in the breakup of his first marriage, and this is patently untrue. I love that aspect of this book, seeing how Vonnegut selects bits of autobiography to make himself look good. It makes him seem so human. He probably needed to believe a lot of good things about himself during the time he wrote this. His last novel had been roundly trashed by critics, and a lot of personal family junk had broken apart all over his head. I think most of us would have cleaned up our past a little if we could have, and Vonnegut's humanity is what has always drawn me to him and his writing.
Any avid reader will enjoy the opening chapter of "Palm Sunday" which deals with the first amendment and censorship. Vonnegut is at his biting and indignant best in this chapter. Chapter four of the text also includes a lovely essay on literary style. It is a profound and simple statement on what makes the best writing, which does not have to be "literature", but just the stuff we scribble in our everyday lives. It is the act of communicating with each other that powers the soul and Vonnegut is eloquent in his defense of it.
Another highlight of the book is a speech that Vonnegut gave called "The Noodle Factory". It is on pages 144-150 of the text and it is about reading, imagination, and the divine gifts they give. It is excellent writing, and is appropriate reading for the ages. Mankind should constantly be reminded of the ideas Vonnegut brings up so eloquently in this speech.
Some of the essays in this book are a little dated, it was published in 1981. However, the themes of human dignity and loneliness (Vonnegut staples) are brought up in essays and speeches all throughout the text, and those subjects are timeless.
The title "Palm Sunday" came from a sermon Vonnegut delivered at a church on Palm Sunday. It is an interesting piece to read from a self professed "Christ worshiping agnostic" and is the last chapter of the text. In the sermon he hits up his plea for human mercy and dignity and it is a nice way to end the book.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 2004
This is simply "An Autobiographical Collage". A collection of Op-Ed pieces, speeches givin, short family tree and some things that had no where else to go. As a fan of Kurt, I own most of his books, and I had this one for 3 years before I read it because I wanted to read more of his fiction before I found out about the man. Some of the articles mention his past novels and it is helpful to have read them to get a true understanding of what he is talking about. It was refreshing to see that Kurt believes the worst book he ahs written is Slapstick, he gives it a D. I never liked that book, and now I feel like it is OK to not like it. All in all this is no more than a short attention span book that will fill 5 minutes here or there. If you have just a passing interest in Vonnegut, do not bother with this book. However if you are a big Vonnegut fan like me, you might want to pick this up and get a little insight into his warped mind.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 2007
This volume is a time-capsule of information about Vonnegut's life, as revealed by Vonnegut himself. This book is timely information not only as a memorial to his life, but also as a source of insights about the nature of the world he lived in, specifically including the McCarthy red-baiting years, but the shadows of WWII. Anyone who isn't already familiar with the U.S. fire-bombing of Dresden should be required to read this book in order to get a fuller understanding of the full consequences of warfare. There are implications for current U.S. war efforts.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2000
Of interest to all Americans who feel rootless because we live in cities (see Spengler also) and because we are no longer hyphenated Americans. Vonnegut bemoans that his family, 'Indiana-Germans', lost the language and thereby passed none of the former culture on to him, leaving him (like the rest of us) at the mercy of football, basketball, TV, and shopping. Good and bad news for him, however: where the German language still survives after 150 years (central Texas ranchers, e.g.), it carries with it none of the German culture.Prerequisite for both 'Mother Night' und 'Schlachthof Funf'.
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If "collage" means a disjointed collection of fragmentary bits and pieces of writing, this is a collage, and perhaps helpful to a true fan of Kurt Vonnegut. I like much of what he wrote as more polished fiction, and puzzled over some of his passages over the years.

But, this is very much NOT a Vonnegut "starter" book; it focuses on Dresden and his son's suicide, with some interesting commentary, including his personal grades, of his own more serious writing.

Start with Slaughterhouse-Five: A Novel Reissue Edition or

Cat's Cradle: A Novel or perhaps

The Sirens of Titan: A Novel

before digging into Palm Sunday.

Having warned the newbies, there are some interesting nuggets in "Palm Sunday", and in particular the attached letter addressed to a book burner in North Dakota. Readers everywhere should applaud Vonnegut's position.

Robert C. Ross
April, 2012
revised February 2015


November 16, 1973

Dear Mr. McCarthy:

I am writing to you in your capacity as chairman of the Drake School Board. I am among those American writers whose books have been destroyed in the now famous furnace of your school.

Certain members of your community have suggested that my work is evil. This is extraordinarily insulting to me. The news from Drake indicates to me that books and writers are very unreal to you people. I am writing this letter to let you know how real I am.

I want you to know, too, that my publisher and I have done absolutely nothing to exploit the disgusting news from Drake. We are not clapping each other on the back, crowing about all the books we will sell because of the news. We have declined to go on television, have written no fiery letters to editorial pages, have granted no lengthy interviews. We are angered and sickened and saddened. And no copies of this letter have been sent to anybody else. You now hold the only copy in your hands. It is a strictly private letter from me to the people of Drake, who have done so much to damage my reputation in the eyes of their children and then in the eyes of the world. Do you have the courage and ordinary decency to show this letter to the people, or will it, too, be consigned to the fires of your furnace?

I gather from what I read in the papers and hear on television that you imagine me, and some other writers, too, as being sort of ratlike people who enjoy making money from poisoning the minds of young people. I am in fact a large, strong person, fifty-one years old, who did a lot of farm work as a boy, who is good with tools. I have raised six children, three my own and three adopted. They have all turned out well. Two of them are farmers. I am a combat infantry veteran from World War II, and hold a Purple Heart. I have earned whatever I own by hard work. I have never been arrested or sued for anything. I am so much trusted with young people and by young people that I have served on the faculties of the University of Iowa, Harvard, and the City College of New York. Every year I receive at least a dozen invitations to be commencement speaker at colleges and high schools. My books are probably more widely used in schools than those of any other living American fiction writer.

If you were to bother to read my books, to behave as educated persons would, you would learn that they are not sexy, and do not argue in favor of wildness of any kind. They beg that people be kinder and more responsible than they often are. It is true that some of the characters speak coarsely. That is because people speak coarsely in real life. Especially soldiers and hardworking men speak coarsely, and even our most sheltered children know that. And we all know, too, that those words really don't damage children much. They didn't damage us when we were young. It was evil deeds and lying that hurt us.

After I have said all this, I am sure you are still ready to respond, in effect, "Yes, yes-but it still remains our right and our responsibility to decide what books our children are going to be made to read in our community." This is surely so. But it is also true that if you exercise that right and fulfill that responsibility in an ignorant, harsh, un-American manner, then people are entitled to call you bad citizens and fools. Even your own children are entitled to call you that.

I read in the newspaper that your community is mystified by the outcry from all over the country about what you have done. Well, you have discovered that Drake is a part of American civilization, and your fellow Americans can't stand it that you have behaved in such an uncivilized way. Perhaps you will learn from this that books are sacred to free men for very good reasons, and that wars have been fought against nations which hate books and burn them. If you are an American, you must allow all ideas to circulate freely in your community, not merely your own.

If you and your board are now determined to show that you in fact have wisdom and maturity when you exercise your powers over the eduction of your young, then you should acknowledge that it was a rotten lesson you taught young people in a free society when you denounced and then burned books-books you hadn't even read. You should also resolve to expose your children to all sorts of opinions and information, in order that they will be better equipped to make decisions and to survive.

Again: you have insulted me, and I am a good citizen, and I am very real.

Kurt Vonnegut
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2004
Palm Sunday reads like Vonnegut's impassioned plea for forgiveness, or perhaps sainthood. "I was right all along" it seems to say, or perhaps "Respect my authority". And who are we to argue?
Who indeed, although a more harsh editor may have scrubbed out some of the self-aggrandizing, i can't believe any editor thought we'd be interested in Vonnegut's family tree. Mind you, i can't believe i read every word of it either... Vonnegut's speeches are pretty inconsequential too - he loves the First Amendment and he fought briefly in WWII, basically sums them up.
Given that Slaughterhouse Five was one of the best autobiographies ever written, Palm Sunday seems somewhat superfluous and any insights into the great man's mind are limited at best, and more tainted by ego than genius at worst.
I'd recommend casual fans should stick to his fiction - only the occasional essay here is particularly enlightening, and i'm not sure it's worth reading through the dross to find it.
Thank you for your attention...
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on March 6, 2012
I am a huge Vonnegut fan and have read all of his fiction and most of his short fiction collections. Recently, I've been tackling his non-fiction collections, and I started with this one. You can't really call this a novel. It's more of a collection of random thoughts, a mini-autobiography, and an essay and speech collection. If you value Kurt Vonnegut's opinions then this book will be a great read. It's a great personal look into a man who's fiction does hint at the man behind the pen but leaves you wondering who really is behind the story.

You can find this book relatively cheaply. (Hardcover is going for 7 cents on here on Amazon.) For that price you really can't go wrong with this book, especially if you're a Vonnegut fan and don't have this in your collection.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 1997
"Palm Sunday" is a lot about Vonnegut you may not want to know. Fortunately, however, he has included one fantastic chapter dealing with: The two movies of his books made in Hollywood in one year, (The best? "Slaughterhouse 5" The movie he wishes his name was not associated with? "Happy Birthday, Wanda June") suicide as a way of life for children of suicide victims, (funny and sad at the same time) and his personal review of all his books, including this one. He gives it a "C+." Fair enough, I suppose. At least he's aware of what he's putting out, even if it not always what his audience wants to read. Strictly for collectors only
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