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Mother Night Paperback – May 11, 1999
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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“A great artist.”—Cincinnati Enquirer
“A shaking up in the kaleidoscope of laughter . . . Reading Vonnegut is addictive!”—Commonweal
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.
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
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'I would prefer to dedicate it to one familiar person, male or female, widely known to have done evil while saying to himself, “A very good me, the real me, a me made in heaven, is hidden deep inside.”'
"I saw a huge steam roller, It blotted out the sun. The people all lay down, lay down; They did not try to run. My love and I, we looked amazed Upon the gory mystery. “Lie down, lie down!” the people cried. “The great machine is history!” My love and I, we ran away, The engine did not find us. We ran up to a mountain top, Left history far behind us. Perhaps we should have stayed and died, But somehow we don’t think so. We went to see where history’d been, And my, the dead did stink so."
Oddly enough, it does serve to humanize a group of people who we're taught to instinctively consider as monsters, but it does so without absolving anyone of responsibility for their actions.
The book is presented as the confessions of Howard W. Campbell, Jr., written in an Israeli jail while awaiting trial for war crimes. Living in Germany during the interwar years, Campbell achieved some success as a playwright, mainly vehicles for his actress wife Helga. [He also kept a journal, entitled MEMOIRS OF A MONOGAMOUS CASANOVA, in which he told of his "conquests of all the hundreds of women my wife, my Helga, had been." In this, at least, he was a romantic.] Just before war breaks out, he is recruited by an American spy master to offer his services to the Nazi hierarchy as a propagandist. So he spends the war making daily broadcasts whose content is virulently racist, but whose pattern of hesitations and speech mannerisms contains coded information for his own people. He is all too successful. At the end of the war, his father-in-law, now the chief of police in Berlin, says to him: "I realized that almost all the ideas that I hold now, that make me unashamed of anything I may have felt or done as a Nazi, come not from Hitler, not from Goebbels, not from Himmler -- but from you. You alone kept me for concluding that Germany had gone insane." He succeeds so well that although the American authorities save him from hanging and enable him to go to ground in Greenwich Village, they can make no public acknowledgement of such a vilified figure.
Campbell describes the next fifteen years as a purgatory worse than hell. But most of the novel focuses on the events that bring this to an end, as his address becomes known both to Israeli agents and to a neo-fascist group determined to exalt him as a hero. Although hilariously over the top, Vonnegut's satire of these American racial and religious extremists strikes quite a few targets even today. But Vonnegut uses the extremism to contrast with the much more reasonable morality growing within Campbell himself. Facing down a freelance assassin determined to rid the world of Evil, he says: "There are plenty of good reasons for fighting, but no good reason ever to hate without reservation, to imagine that God Almighty Himself hates with you, too. Where's evil? It's that large part of every man that wants to hate without limit, that wants to hate with God on his side."
No, Vonnegut is not a Nazi, and though writing with humor, he does not condone. But he condemns extremism on ALL sides, and sees human beings as a lot closer together than their ideologies might proclaim them.