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Traumatized by the bombing of Dresden at the time he had been imprisoned, Pilgrim drifts through all events and history, sometimes deeply implicated, sometimes a witness. He is surrounded by Vonnegut's usual large cast of continuing characters (notably here the hack science fiction writer Kilgore Trout and the alien Tralmafadorians who oversee his life and remind him constantly that there is no causation, no order, no motive to existence).
The "unstuck" nature of Pilgrim's experience may constitute an early novelistic use of what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; then again, Pilgrim's aliens may be as "real" as Dresden is real to him. Struggling to find some purpose, order or meaning to his existence and humanity's, Pilgrim meets the beauteous and mysterious Montana Wildhack (certainly the author's best character name), has a child with her and drifts on some supernal plane, finally, in which Kilgore Trout, the Tralmafadorians, Montana Wildhack and the ruins of Dresden do not merge but rather disperse through all planes of existence.
Slaughterhouse-Five was hugely successful, brought Vonnegut an enormous audience, was a finalist for the National Book Award and a bestseller and remains four decades later as timeless and shattering a war fiction as Catch-22, with which it stands as the two signal novels of their riotous and furious decade.
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.
Don't let the ease of reading fool you--Vonnegut's isn't a conventional, or simple, novel. He writes, "There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters..." Slaughterhouse-Five (taken from the name of the building where the POWs were held) is not only Vonnegut's most powerful book, it is as important as any written since 1945. Like Catch- 22, it fashions the author's experiences in the Second World War into an eloquent and deeply funny plea against butchery in the service of authority. Slaughterhouse-Five boasts the same imagination, humanity, and gleeful appreciation of the absurd found in Vonnegut's other works, but the book's basis in rock-hard, tragic fact gives it a unique poignancy--and humor.--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
- ASIN : B003XVYLDU
- Publisher : RosettaBooks (July 1, 2010)
- Publication date : July 1, 2010
- Language : English
- File size : 1599 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Sticky notes : On Kindle Scribe
- Print length : 156 pages
- Customer Reviews:
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Reviewed in the United States on February 16, 2022
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And so it begins in the late Kurt Vonnegut's classic of American literature, Slaughterhouse Five , the absurdist masterpiece that this veteran of the 'Nam Era first read in college in the early '70s. It was a time when peace protests were spreading across the United States, and disillusionment was growing in the ranks of pour troops in Vietnam.
And then in June of 1972, a photo appeared in newspapers across the country and around the world, an image of a young Vietnamese girl running down the road, her body scorched by napalm, her face contorted in pain. That photograph, taken by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut remains a haunting image of the American war in Vietnam. This photo became one of the most famous and memorable photos of Vietnam, and won Nick Ut the Pulitzer prize in 1972, and is the subject of The Girl in the Picture by Denise Chong.
Shortly after this photo had appeared in the news, I had read the section in this book where protagonist Billy Pilgrim had again become unstuck in time, and was seeing the firebombing of Dresden as if it was a movie being run backwards: "The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes." And Vonnegut ran this scene, quickly backwards in time, with Billy Pilgrim extrapolating, all the way back to Adam and Eve.
I made the mistake of reading these few passages about Dresden in my Contemporary American Literature class, and all hell broke loose, mostly because the impact of Nick Ut's famous photo was on everyone's mind and being discussed from many aspects. The class discussions rapidly turned away from the discussions on Kurt Vonnegut's contributions to science fiction writing and literature in general, and didn't stop until the class was over. So it goes.
The concepts of free will and fate that Vonnegut raises here can be thought provoking in themselves, and the author is also capable of adding a bit of hilarity in places where it's least expected. Not wanting to interject any spoilers here, but Billy has been kidnapped in a flying saucer and is taken to the planet Trafalmadore. These extraterrestrials appear (to humans) like upright toilet plungers with a hand atop, into which is set a single, green eye. During the trip to Tralfamadore, Billy asked for something to read. Among their "five million Earthling books on microfilm," the only actual book in English that they had was 'Valley of the Dolls' by Jacqueline Susann. "Billy read it, thought it was pretty good in spots. The people certainly had their ups and down, ups and downs."
There have been many analyses of this book, many reviews, and most of them are far more thought provoking than this reviewer is going to get into here. The characters that proliferate this book become three-dimensional as Billy Pilgrim bounces back and forth in time. Paul Lazzaro is a memorable and obsessive character who appears in a very crucial role, but to describe him further would be a spoiler. Billy meets adult film star Montana Wildhack on the planet Trafamadore, where they both share a space in a zoo there, and Billy does have some interesting dreams about her as well... we'll leave it at that.
Vonnegut continually uses the refrain "So it goes." This can appear when death or dying occur, as a transition to another subject, to explain what cannot be explained, and as comic relief. I heard or read somewhere that this appears over a hundred times, but I'm not counting. So it goes.
Should note that the 1972 film Slaughterhouse-Five is available on DVD, and it's as faithful a film adaptation as one could find for a book such as this. It's expertly directed by George Roy Hill, and Michael Sacks really becomes the character as Billy Pilgrim, and Sharon Ganz is perfect as his overweight, overprotective wife. Ron Leibman is quite good as the loony and obsessed Paul Lazzaro, and
Was glad to find this in Kindle format, as my last two printed copies of this book were borrowed by friends who had promised to return them when they finished. One did say that she was "still working on it" a couple of years later, but that she was having a tough time following it, as Billy Pilgrim becoming "unstuck in time" was difficult for her to follow. So it goes.
There are too many good Vonnegut books to recommend here, and this reader has read almost all of those by this author. Some, like Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage might appeal to diehard Vonnegut fans more than those just beginning to explore his works. In Chapter 18 of that book, the author graded his own works, and some of them are as follows:
* Player Piano: B
* God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater : A
* The Sirens of Titan : A
* Mother Night : A
* Cat's Cradle : A+
* Slaughterhouse Five : A+
* Welcome to the Monkey House: B-
* Happy Birthday, Wanda June: D
* Jailbird : A
In each of these grades, this reader will agree, and most if not all can be found here. But it's still Slaughterhouse Five that remains as my personal 5-star favorite. So it goes.
“Excuse me,” said the truck driver to Trout, “I’ve got to take a leak.”
“Back where I come from,” said Trout, “that means you’re going to steal a mirror. We call mirrors leaks.”
“I never heard that before,” said the driver. He repeated the word: “Leaks.” He pointed to a mirror on a cigarette machine. “You call that a leak?”
“Doesn’t it look like a leak to you?” said Trout.
“No,” said the driver. “Where did you say you were from?”
“I was born in Bermuda,” said Trout.
About a week later, the driver would tell his wife that mirrors were called leaks in Bermuda, and she would tell her friends.
[Vonnegut, Kurt. Breakfast of Champions (pp. 91-94). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.]
I remember laughing out loud at that passage, Anyway, I fell in love with what I thought was his sense of humor and went on to read six more of his books. As I did, I got more and more depressed. I eventually quit reading his books because I couldn't take it. One of them that I never got around to reading was "Slaughterhouse-Five". I wish I had. It would have explained a lot.
Like "Breakfast of Champions", Vonnegut put himself, along with his characters, into the books. This is especially true in "Slaughterhouse-Five" (which I will now refer to as S5). S5 chapter 1 begins with Vonnegut's own story. Chapter 2 begins the story of Vonnegut's avatar, Billy Pilgrim. The story, both the fictional and true elements, is how during the Second World War they got to the German city of Dresden and then survived its firebombing. Witnessing that event in particular and World War II, in general, had a profound effect on Vonnegut. He became charmingly cynical in the extreme.
An NPR writer said this about him, "Kurt Vonnegut was a counterculture hero, a modern Mark Twain, an avuncular, jocular friend to the youth — until you got to know him." He wanted to reach young people with his writing even though he was 50 years old. So he created a writing voice that reached the Viet Nam-era youth to tell them his damaged views of life. It worked. Books like S5 and BOC flew off the shelves. Normally, you have to be dead a long time before they are teaching your books in freshman college courses unless you have become a countercultural hero. Such was the case. (BOC was published in 1973 and I was a freshman in 1975.)
You may think I am warning you not to read this or any of his books, but it isn't true. I think he was a brilliant writer and truly was an American master. But, I also think you should inform yourself about what is going on behind the scenes. There is no lack of information about the enigma that was Vonnegut, so do a bit of digging and make sure you understand something about the trip you will take.
One of the things you'll discover about his books is to watch for his "signature move". In BOC, the little drawings were the quirky window dressings he added. In S5, he uses the phrase "So it goes." When you read S5, you'll see this phrase every time death is mentioned, whether it is the death of a person, an idea, a product or whatever. There has been a fair bit of analysis written about what he meant by it. One of the things about World War II that deeply affected Vonnegut was the mass killing of people whether by firebombing (Dresden, Tokyo, etc) or the nuclear bombing of cities (Hiroshima, Nagasaki). This was death on a grand scale and it had a profound effect on his mind. In S5, there are over 100 references to death and each one is accompanied by "So it goes." Quite often, the references are both ghastly and ironic.
Here is an example:
"Early in 1968, a group of optometrists, with Billy among them, chartered an airplane to fly them from Ilium to an international convention of optometrists in Montreal. The plane crashed on top of Sugarbush Mountain, in Vermont. Everybody was killed but Billy. So it goes.
While Billy was recuperating in a hospital in Vermont, his wife died accidentally of carbon-monoxide poisoning. So it goes."
[Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five (p. 31). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.]
I hope you enjoy "Slaughterhouse-Five"; I did. However, I protected myself by waiting until I was 63 and knew how to guard my mind. Others can tell you more about what you'll get from the story. I'm just here to make sure you are wearing your safety harness.
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The story is mainly set in Dresden during the Second World War, although eventually the protagonist realises that timeline of his life is something he can choose to enter when he chooses. So the story flits from his early days to when he is quite old and he experiences death, getting married, his daughter's marriage and so on.
But it his time in Dresden that is the most disturbing. He is a prisoner of war during the firebombing, captured as an American soldier fighting for the Allies. There is intricate detail of his peers, the characters' suffering and the things they had to do to survive. The significant feature is that they are young men, naive of the world they inhabit, hence the alternative title of The Children's Crusade.
In his future, the protagonist finds himself an exhibit in a glass cage on another planet. There he is observed and given a mate in an attempt to breed. This could be viewed as a science-fiction thread or an escapist strategy due to his post-traumatic stress disorder. The theme is free will versus fate, both on Earth and on the other planet, concluding that everyone does what they have to do: 'So it goes'.
The story is witty, ironic and poignant. It looks at death, warfare, time, suffering, innocence, morality and fate. It is simply written from one man's perspective as he witnesses and lives through the destruction and effects of war. An accessible book that leaves plenty to think about.
A book then to read and re-read. Just don't expect a happy ending.
And Slaughterhouse-Five is his most famous book. If you’ve ever read a list of Books You Must Read Before You Die or any such list, Slaughterhouse-Five is undoubtedly there. And it’s been part of my Want to Read list for quite a while.
Now I have my own opinion about this modern classic. And it is “You should definitely read it too”. I’m officially another person who thinks this book deserves a spot on the must read lists. So it goes.
I quite enjoy Vonnegut’s writing style for this book. The book is very well written, the characters are well-developed and captivating. I finished the book asking myself if Trout was a real author.
The book talks about the story of Billy Pilgrim, who was in Dresden when the city was bombarded during the Second World War.
There are some autobiographical elements to the story since the author was a prisoner of war in Dresden when the bombarding happened. So it goes.
I particularly enjoyed the sci-fi elements of this book. As a reader, you’re not entirely sure if Billy actually time travels (or comes unstuck in time as he says) or if he’s suffering from mental health problems, as many veterans do. Or maybe, if it’s a mix of both.
A book that entertains while making the reader think, the perfect mixture. A great read, even if the ending is slightly disappointing and abrupt.
PS: Kilgore Trout isn’t a real author, if you were wondering. He appears in several of Vonnegut’s novels. Apart from being a prolific, yet very unsuccessful, sci-fi writer, he’s a very inconsistent character. I’m still looking forward to meeting him again in other novels.
The novel that he writes turns out to be about Billy Pilgrim, a war vet like himself, but Dresden becomes just an episode within his narrative about his experiences as a time-traveller. The shift of focus suggests that the brutality of the war experience is too harsh and horrific to be addressed head-on and that it needs to be looked at sideways, mediated by a layered narrative.
Seemingly farcical, born-loser Billy is something of a joke in the army, and his position is non-combat and perfunctory. Death recurs in the novel, and as a way of cushioning the blow, the narrator always appends any mention of it with "and so it goes".
Vonnegut has a distinctive style of writing that is disjointed and episodic, which is filmic in quality, akin to the way a scene fades out to the next. Perhaps this style is also in keeping with the story of a man who becomes "unstuck in time" and begins to view life not as a continuum, and death not as an end, but rather as moments which, when chronology is taken away, causes the finality of circumstances to lose their significance, which also takes away the sting of hopeless events in one's life.
Humorous despite the gravity of the issues dealt with in the novel, Vonnegut manages to adopt an authorial perspective that is neither prescriptive nor heavy-handed, allowing him to speak truthfully about the pain of human suffering without the melodrama.
For those who like to avoid spoilers, feel free to stop reading after this paragraph. I'll simply say that this is one of those 'must-read' books. I enjoyed it from beginning to end, though it wasn't anything like I expected in any way. I was certainly more than a little sorry that this is a book discovered later in life, as I expect to return to it more than once.
It's said that we judge a book by its cover, but I've always felt that was wrong. Perhaps we might buy a book based on its cover, but judging any book on such scant information – a title and picture – is seldom right. Never more so than with Slaughterhouse-Five, which for years I'd suspected is set in the future (it isn't) and centres around a place of grim violence (it doesn't). Why it's called Slaughterhouse-Five is something I'll hold back as a joy for you to discover, should you deem to read it.
Slaughterhouse-Five is the story of Billy Pilgrim's life, framed around his time in the Second World War – more specifically, the terrible bombing of Dresden, of which he is, was and will be a survivor. I say is, was and will be partly because the book is written in snatches – small chunks of Billy's life from seemingly random points. I also say this partly because that's how Billy experiences time – for him, it's not linear.
It's a story not told by Billy, but by someone who knows him. The author has promised himself – and many others – that he will write something about the bombing of Dresden; something that brings a kind of meaning to the events there. But he can't. He struggles to recall it and friends he was with do the same, or are reluctant to speak of it. It almost falls into being a story about Billy, while at the same time becomes a story about Dresden. It also is, perhaps more than anything else, a story about death.
Death pervades almost every part of this book, sewn into its every paragraph like stitches that hold the piece together. And yet it's not the death that we might expect. It's not a brooding or violent death, more an essay in how to put death into the story of life. It talks about death as not something to mourn or fear, but more an inevitable part of a greater whole – life and existence – that is to be celebrated. So it goes. (I won't spoil what that little phrase means, either.)
The writing style is welcoming – open, honest and conversational snippets that convey far more than posturing prose ever could. It's an easy read. As Billy travels through life – and time – his story unfolds. Yet much of the writing is achingly beautiful, despite the apparent simplicity of the prose. It's both philosophical and poetic; it's never condescending or pretentious. And it's also not a book about time-travel: this is not The Time-Traveller's Wife. Time-travel is not a plot device, it's a means of unfolding the story, and a way in which both life and death can be put into context.
This is also part of Billy's journey – how he must convey to others what he knows is the truth of life, time and death. It's a mission he undertakes late in life – and involves him revealing to others something about himself (with disarming honesty) that can, for many, only serve to fundamentally undermine the integrity of his viewpoint. I won't spoil this for you either, but this key point is written so deftly that you're never sure if it's a delusion or fact. Not that this matters. Billy can't convey his philosophy without revealing how it came about – and why he knows his philosophy to be fact. It's part of a whole – and the whole has to be accepted for any part of it to make sense.
In many ways, it's a highly unusual novel. As the book itself says of war (and perhaps of itself): "There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick or so much the listless playthings of enormous forces."
Slaughterhouse-Five is both casual and epic. It's an easy tale with a deep, deep message, wrapped into a tale of life, woven into a story of war.
And war is enormous – yet we sometimes lose perspective. We think of the bombing of Hiroshima as one of the Second World War's biggest events, where 71,379 people died. Yet on a single night, 5 March 1945, Americans dropped high explosives and incendiary bombs on Tokyo – killing 83,793 people. And Dresden? Around 130,000 people were killed in one night. So it goes.
Billy survived Dresden by ironic chance of the place in which he was held prisoner – and went on to explain to others that it was neither something that had to be done nor could have been avoided, it 'just was'. If you have war, you have death. If you have life, you have death.
I doubt that any book could make sense of (let alone give meaning to) something as awful as the bombing of Dresden, or part of any war – or indeed war itself. But death is part of war as death is part of life and Slaughterhouse-Five gets as close to raising our awareness of where death fits into life as any book I've read. A truly excellent book and one that is easily worthy of its reputation of being a modern masterpiece.