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VINE VOICEon April 1, 2008
Vonnegut is an American treasure. He was the Mark Twain of my generation, and I'm confident that he'll continue to be read and admired by future ones. But not everything that even an author like Vonnegut writes needs to see the light of day. And if Vonnegut himself chose not to publish certain manuscripts during his lifetime, that sends off a pretty good signal.

Which brings us to Armageddon in Retrospect, a posthumous (one of many to come?) collection of twelve unpublished pieces related to war. (The entire collection is prefaced by Vonnegut's final speech, which after his death was read by his son Mark to the gathering that commissioned it. If it actually had been given by Vonnegut, it probably would've been hilarious; delivery is everything. But in print, it's a rather tedious litany of flat one-liners.) Many of the pieces are inspired by Vonnegut's World War II experience as a prisoner of war, the same one that birthed his incomparable Slaughterhouse-Five. But these stories, unlike the novel, are...well, at best mildly interesting and insightful. The only one that really measures up to the Vonnegut genius is the title piece, "Armageddon in Retrospect." Less good but still respectable are "Great Day" and "Happy Birthday, 1951." But other pieces in the collection, such as "Just You and Me, Sammy" and "Brighten Up" are just awful: mechanical in style, predictable in plot.

What does come across in these hitherto unpublished writings is the humanist Vonnegut's deep hatred of war. (In the collection's Introduction, son Mark tells us that Vonnegut became depressed and hopeless when the current war in Iraq broke out.) The quality of the stories anthologized here may be uneven, but their passionate indictment of what war does to the soldiers and civilians who live through it is itself eloquent.

But is it eloquent enough to warrant the publication of these pieces? I dunno. Reasonable people can reasonably disagree on that one. But I do hope that Vonnegut's literary executors will think long and hard before publishing every scribble he left behind. Even geniuses like Vonnegut had their bad writing days.

And by the way, Kurt: I miss ya.
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VINE VOICEon April 8, 2008
"Where do I get my ideas from? You might as well have asked that of Beethoven. He was goofing around in Germany like everybody else, and all of a sudden this stuff came gushing out of him. It was music. I was goofing around like everybody else in Indiana, and all of a sudden stuff came gushing out. It was disgust with civilization."

Kurt Vonnegut was no stranger to getting his feelings out there in his fiction. Slaughterhouse-Five is the most obvious example, using protagonist Billy Pilgrim's experience as a survivor of the horrific bombing of Dresden as a stand-in for Vonnegut himself, who was a prisoner of war during that life-altering event. Being present for that atrocity forever scarred Vonnegut's perception of humanity, and the repercussions can be felt whenever you pick up one of his books. Truly, he was a man with a complicated, tortured perspective on the rest of the world. He had seen humanity at its worst, yet still seemed to believe that it was possible for man to redeem himself if he would just try. Yes, Vonnegut's canon is packed with the disgust for civilization that he mentions in the above quote, but it is also marked by a starry-eyed hopefulness. William Golding, author of "Lord of the Flies," struck the same chords in his fiction, and he took home a Nobel Prize for his troubles.

"Armageddon in Retrospect" is a collection of previously unpublished works by Vonnegut, almost exclusively from the period of his life after he returned home from WWII and before he struck it big as a novelist. The exceptions are a speech that he was meant to deliver in Indianapolis in late April, 2007, but which had to be delivered by his son, Mark, instead after Vonnegut passed away earlier that same month, and a letter that he wrote to his family to explain what had happened to him since he had been taken prisoner (namely, that he had survived that dreadful firebombing in Dresden and would be returning home, although many of his compatriots had not been so lucky). The letter is nothing short of astonishing. Devoid of almost all emotion, it resonates powerfully - a truly timeless document, but one that is especially meaningful in a time when there are American soldiers overseas and fighting rages on. The speech, on the other hand, is notable as the last piece of writing the great Vonnegut would produce, but for anyone who read A Man Without a Country it will sound a little too familiar.

The bulk of "Armageddon" is comprised of short stories, and splendid stories they are, if a slight touch uneven. "Great Day," "The Unicorn Trap," and, unfortunately, the title story, "Armageddon in Retrospect," are stumbles, but only minor ones. Luckily, the good stories do more than their share to balance things out. With two exceptions, all of the stories deal directly with the wages of war and the soldiers who survive the ordeal. All of them examine the inherent corruptibility of man, and the things some people are willing to do to survive. More than one story features a character who cozies up to his enemy in order to make his situation more comfortable, and uses that position to exploit his comrades in POW camp. The best of the bunch, "Happy Birthday, 1951," is a poignant look at an older man who is trying to teach a young boy the value of peace, but who cannot compete with the glamorous appeal of tanks and guns to sway the boy's interests.

"Armageddon in Retrospect" feels like the most personal of Vonnegut's works on the market, perhaps because in its twists and turns you can feel the personal struggle of its author to reconcile what he has seen of the realities of mankind's present and past with what he hopes is in store for the future. If at times he angrily remarks "When does all the hate end? Never," he also has the power to envision a soldier who has just arrived in Europe, untainted by the fighting that had gone on, who singlehandedly restores the faith of a cabinet-maker whose experiences during his city's occupation have left him with little hope for the future. If we could just get away from war's influence, Vonnegut seems to be arguing, we might just be all right in the end.

With all of these weighty contemplations, it is a wonder that Vonnegut was able to hold on to his whimsical touch, but thankfully he never lost that attribute. Everything he wrote was imbued with a keen eye for the absurd, the fantastic, and the satiric. And for evidence of this look no further than the author photo gazing out from the back of the book's jacket, featuring an aged Vonnegut waving to the camera with a goofy expression on his face (half serious, half amused), framed by voluminous flowers and a garden gnome riding a pig (seriously). It amuses me, but it is also rather sad, because in the context of this book's publication it feels like he is waving goodbye. I never met Kurt Vonnegut, but I will miss him terribly. At least, with "A Man without a Country" and "Armageddon in Retrospect" the great author got the goodbye he deserved.

Grade: A

PS My personal favorite when it comes to Vonnegut is Mother Night, so be sure to snap that one up post haste.
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on November 4, 2009
In this book, Kurt Vonnegut returns to his lifelong obsession: the bombing of the German city of Dresden at the end of World War II. In `Wailing Shall be in the Streets': `boys, you killed an appalling lot of women and children. Wholesale bombing of civilian populations was blasphemous. The sickening truth is that for all the sublimity of the cause for which we fought, we surely created a Belsen of our own.'

He was fed up with US governmental policies: `that all that money we were spending blowing up things and killing people so far away, making people the world over hate and fear us, would have been better spent on public education and libraries.' (Introduction by his son, Mark)
He didn't have a great opinion about his white compatriots: `the most splendid American phenomenon of my lifetime is how African-American citizen have maintained their dignity and self-respect, despite their having been treated by white Americans simply because of their skin color.' (`At Clower Hall, Indianapolis')

The real nature of Man and `Civilization'
Nor was his vision of man in general very bright: inventions of still more sophisticated weapons (`Great Day'), attraction to violence (`Soft citizen of the American democracy learned to kick a man below the belt and make the [...]scream.'), the brutality of the powerful (`The Unicorn Trap), war profiteering (`Brighten Up'), use of secret intelligence services ('Just You and Me, Sammy') or search for revenge (`The Commandant's Desk').
Ultimately, the Devil sits inside Man; Man is the Devil (`Armageddon in Retrospect').

His last published words summarize it all: `It was disgust with civilization'.

This book is a must read for all lovers of world literature and for all fans of the writer of such masterpieces as `Slaughterhouse Five' and `Mother Night'.
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on January 11, 2014
is one of my favorites so I'm probably pretty biased. I love his retrospective writing on his live and the time he spent in Dresden. I love his humanist nature and the way that I've come to be influenced by the way he fully expresses his thoughts. This book is a perfect example of that... and it also shows how historical record and eye witness accounts can tell the same story in very different ways.
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on August 21, 2008
Made In Hero: The War for Soap

Maybe some subjects are difficult to talk about without a dose of juvenile humor. Talk about honestly, anyway. For Kurt Vonnegut, one of those subjects was war. He seemed to feel that war was meaningless, although writing about it wasn't. His son Mark observed, "The reader's time and attention were sacred to him."

As a tribute to the legacy of Kurt Vonnegut, this volume of previously unpublished writings is bittersweet. It begins with Kurt's army repatriation letter, addressed to his family from a processing station at the end of WWII, which begins "Dear people." It goes on to explain what he'd been up to in the prior months as a POW in the custody of Germans. We can see that even at age 22, Kurt Vonnegut had the deadpan delivery and dark humor of the man who was destined to invent Billy Pilgrim and the Planet Tralfalmadore. We can see the sadness, too.

In "Great Day," the narrator is a green recruit in a futuristic Army of the World. For every manic order barked at him by the burly sergeant, the recruit replies "I done it." Repeated often enough, the phrase becomes a chorus, and the story a song. In this way, "So it goes," became the anthem of a generation of readers who grew up on SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE. It's a Vonnegutian trademark.

A few stories are feats of Vonnegutian magic realism-a unique mix of grit, war and the surreal. A nice example is "Happy Birthday, 1951" -a satire on the human fascination with war and its hardware. In a quasi-post Apocalyptic setting, an old man and a boy survive in a subterranean shelter beneath the rubble of a bombed and occupied city (which could be Dresden, could be anywhere). The old man picks tomorrow as the day to celebrate the boy's birthday (the actual date being unknown). For a gift, he builds a cart from scrap tires he managed to scavenge. The pair display the sort of ragamuffin innocence often found in survivors. The combination is not merely affable and idyllic-but deceptive and ominous.

Many of the stories in this volume are disturbing. Vonnegut knows how to set up the fall, and willingly, we go there. If the point of fiction is to create alternative universes, Vonnegut makes frightening ones. But they have a Vonnegutian redemption, too, so much that we like them better than the actual worlds we live in.
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on May 2, 2008
I saw this at a bookstore and was surprised to see a "new" Vonnegut book. He is a fantastic writer and this book is no exception. The reason for four stars rather than five is that some of the stories are a little "rough" (you've been pitching that all night). I can see why some were not published previously. However, there are some in the book that are outstanding. If you like Vonnegut, you'll love this book. If you are a first time reader of him I would start with one of his other books first.
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on August 6, 2015
This is a must have for all Kurt Vonnegut fans. I loved the forward by his son. I loved all the essays. Buy this book, you will love it. The essays give the reader lots to think about and reflect upon.
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on June 11, 2015
Being a big fan of Vonnegut and having read all of his novels,I found this very interesting, but not as entertaining as his novels. It's as if he lets an artistic facade down and reveals his personal thoughts and feelings in these stories. As the final statement in the last story says, he expresses "disgust with mankind."
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on May 15, 2015
This is a review of the unabridged CD audio version of this work (not audible)

This work consists of a number of short stories by Vonnegut on war plus a short introduction read by his son (which is also read by him). The short essay by the son (also read by him albeit the rest of the book is read by Rip Torn) is quite enlightening regarding Vonnegut’s career, personality and life. It elaborates on why, thanks to his personality, he was really unable to hold a “conventional” job and how this forced him, more or less, into his profession. It also provides some insight into his humor (very strange) as well as into his personality and political views (not surprisingly anti-war and leftist).

The meat and potatoes of the book, the numerous short stories, are a very mixed bag in terms of quality. Some are truly spectacular. These, in particular, are not the fictional works but the real life stories of himself as a prisoner where he worked extensively cleaning up after allied bombing raids. The scenes he described are truly horrific. For example, children being trapped in basements, cleaning out ash in the form of human beings, etc. These are truly moving and one can see, even if disagreeing with his anti-war views, why he had them and why they never left his mind or stopped inspiring him (if that is the correct word). The first story, which this is, is very well placed in that it is what inspired the rest of the stories on the CD as well as his lifelong works.

There are also one or two other stories that can be described as being 5 star. Truly spectacular. There are also a few four star and one or two three star. Unfortunately about half the book consists of some pretty bad stories (one or two star quality). Hence this reviewer is unable to grant this CD more than a three star rating. That unfortunately, is pretty much is the mean quality of the stories on aggregate. On a more positive note the book is quite well read (about 4 stars). It is never monotone or boring, as bad as some of the stories may be.
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VINE VOICEon June 24, 2015
Published in 2008.

This collection of short stories (and one letter and one rambling, but enjoyable, speech) focuses on war and the folly of war. Many of the stories deal with World War II and prisoners of war, a theme echoed in Slaughterhouse-Five.

The book begins with an entertaining introduction by Mark Vonnegut, Kurt's son followed by an astonishingly flippant letter from Kurt to his family telling them that he had been a prisoner of war since the Battle of the Bulge but now he was liberated and headed back to Indiana. The letter is actually reproduced as a picture so you can see it how he typed it on the stationary that he typed it. The letter is followed by the last speech he ever wrote, appropriately delivered in his hometown of Indianapolis by his son after Kurt Vonnegut's death.

The short stories are up and down, as all short stories collections are. But, Vonnegut's gift for creating interesting characters shines through most of them and I found myself invested in most of them in a very short time. Most have funny moments tossed in the middle of a great tragedy. Many feature prisoners of war, which is understandable considering Vonnegut's own experiences in World War II.

The book itself is a beautiful hardback made with the highest quality slick paper. Between the short stories there are drawings and quips from Vonnegut.
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