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A Man Without a Country Paperback – January 16, 2007
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“For all those who have lived with Vonnegut in their imaginations . . . this is what he is like in person.”–USA Today
“[This] may be as close as Vonnegut ever comes to a memoir.”–Los Angeles Times
“Like [that of] his literary ancestor Mark Twain, [Kurt Vonnegut’s] crankiness is good-humored and sharp-witted. . . . [Reading A Man Without a Country is] like sitting down on the couch for a long chat with an old friend.”–The New York Times Book Review
“Filled with [Vonnegut’s] usual contradictory mix of joy and sorrow, hope and despair, humor and gravity.”–Chicago Tribune
“Fans will linger on every word . . . as once again [Vonnegut] captures the complexity of the human condition with stunning calligraphic simplicity.”–The Australian
“Thank God, Kurt Vonnegut has broken his promise that he will never write another book. In this wondrous assemblage of mini-memoirs, we discover his family’s legacy and his obstinate, unfashionable humanism.”–Studs Terkel
“This book is nothing if not a big shot in the arm of concentrated hope.”—The Sycamore Review
“No other American humorist see-saws from gravity to gobbledygook this effectively, in part because for Vonnegut the two are always connected. Life for him is deadly serious, bu the best way to deal with fear is to laugh in its face.”—The Jerusalem Post
About the Author
Kurt Vonnegut’s black humor, satiric voice, and incomparable imagination first captured America’s attention in The Sirens of Titan in 1959 and established him as “a true artist” (The New York Times) with Cat’s Cradle in 1963. He was, as Graham Greene declared, “one of the best living American writers.” Mr. Vonnegut passed away in April 2007.
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Vonnegut also discusses the Mexican-American War and what Abraham Lincoln thought about it. As a matter of fact in the 1840's slavery was illegal there. So I guess that justified an invasion... right? The truth is the war was a land grab for California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. And rightwing Americans have the audacity to say that Latinos are illegal!
This book is great! Each quote is elegantly witty, yet enlightening. For example: "No matter how corrupt, greedy, and heartless our government, our corporations, our media, and our religious and charitable institutions may become, the music will still be wonderful." And he's right considering Black people created the music that is the very milieu of American culture today and the world's for that matter. Vonnegut states "African Americans gave the whole world when they were still in slavery, a gift so great that it is now almost the only reason many foreigners still like us at least a little bit. That specific remedy for the worldwide epidemic of depression is a gift called the blues." All I can say is that a little Jimi Hendrix goes a long way.
On page 56 Vonnegut alludes to the notion that technology has become our Achilles heel, breeding an insalubrious environment. "Today we have contraptions like nuclear submarines armed with Poseidon missiles that have H-bombs in their warheads. And we have contraptions like computers that cheat you out of becoming" someone special. "But it's you who should be doing the becoming, not the (dang) fool computer. What you can become is the miracle you were born to be through the work that you do." In other words don't let the elites' idea of progress rob you of your humanity.
Overall, Vonnegut laughs in the face of the "American Drug War," which he compares it to prohibition of the 1920's and early 1930's.
He also says, "Now let me give you a marketing tip. The people who can afford to buy books and magazines and go to the movies don't like to hear about people who are poor or sick." I find that quote to be the truism of the century. A case in point: Vonnegut points out that the so-called Christian right argues for the Ten Commandments to "be posted in public buildings," but "for some reason, the most vocal (extreme right-wing) Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes" of Christ Jesus. None of them have ever demanded "that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes be posted anywhere." It's funny how the Evangelical ultra right-wing never quotes Jesus or adheres to his teachings. What a wonderful world we would live in if they embraced Christ principles.
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth."
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God."
As Vonnegut explains, Jesus' words are "not exactly in the Republican platform." It definitely can't be found in the Tea Party's or the Christian Right's doctrine. If Jesus were here in the physical sense he would be tarred, feathered and branded a socialist. And "doesn't anything socialistic make you want to throw up? Like great public schools, or health insurance for all?" said Vonnegut facetiously of course.
His diatribe about the Republican Party during the George W. Bush presidency is on point. He diagnosis them (including the Christian Right aka white supremacists) as having psychopathic personality disorder, "and what syndrome better describes so many executives at Enron and WorldCom and on and on, who have enriched themselves while ruining their employees and investors and country and who still feel as pure as the driven snow, no matter what anybody may say to or about them? And they are waging a war that is making billionaires out of millionaires, and trillionaires out of billionaires, and they own television, and they bankrolled George Bush and not because he's against gay marriage" either! These Republicans only stand for cutting healthcare, cutting taxes for the rich, Building trillion-dollar missile shields, taping everybody's telephones, suspending Habeas Corpus indefinitely, and eviscerating our Constitutional rights as a free republic according to Vonnegut.
I also like what he had to say on page 24 that art is the very catalyst that makes the world a bearable place to live in because it is our raison d'être. "Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem, do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something." Plus, it will keep you sane and well grounded in this insane world we live in.
This book is a powerful polemic that is simultaneously cynical and quixotic. The truth is Vonnegut's diatribe is socialistic since he believes in Marxism. "A Man Without a Country" is one of the most compelling pieces of truth telling literature you will ever read, and it is so relevant considering today's political paradigm is pretty dire.
Overall, this book is part polemic, part memoir.
ENJOY, I highly recommend it.
Kurt Vonnegut has long been an observer and commentator of the human condition through some of the most well-crafted prose ever written; and the latest happenings in a world that seems to have gone a bit mad have fueled a fire many of us thought retired at 84 and waiting for death (I seem to remember an interview where he mentions this). But, I am now convinced that our own self-inflicted injuries as a society have at least given us one bright hope...that Kurt Vonnegut might continue to live a long a productive life for a good deal longer. It is obvious that the current state of affairs in the world have Mr. Vonnegut mad - hopping mad - and he is writing about it.
While pointing out how messed up we are, Mr. Vonnegut is also telling us to lighten up. This book is hard to sum up in a short review, but I think that I will let one last quote from this fantastic book do the job for me: "We are here on Earth to fart around. Don't let anybody tell you any different."
A Guide to my Book Rating System:
1 star = The wood pulp would have been better utilized as toilet paper.
2 stars = Don't bother, clean your bathroom instead.
3 stars = Wasn't a waste of time, but it was time wasted.
4 stars = Good book, but not life altering.
5 stars = This book changed my world in at least some small way.
With a smooth and slightly dryer than normal tone, Vonnegut gives us chapters of wisdom regarding the general environment around us. In most of them, he indicates the failure of men to be good stewards and guardians of the Earth as our main resource. He is concerned about the kind of world we have created and where his grandchildren will end up. How could we even imagine projecting out 50 years in the information age? The world we have created is likely to reflect the way we have treated it and that treatment has been pretty shabbily handled.
Long time Vonnegut readers can see the shift from one who thought perhaps there was a way of saving ourselves to one who is less naïve about human ways and means. His approach is more considered. His experience is so much greater. He indicates that he has given up on the human race. He can not teach them what they need to know, because they do not care to listen.
The book is recommended for all Vonnegut readers, especially long term ones. Also, all readers interested in a long watcher or life's comments on the state of the world he is to leave somewhere not so long down the road. Excellent commentary!