Slaughterhouse-Five: A Novel 50th Anniversary Edition, Kindle Edition
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“Very tough and very funny . . . sad and delightful . . . very Vonnegut.”—The New York Times
“Splendid . . . a funny book at which you are not permitted to laugh, a sad book without tears.”—Life
“Funny, satirical, compelling, outrageous, fanciful, mordant, fecund . . . ‘It’s too good to be science fiction,’ [the critics] would say. But Vonnegut doesn’t care, and you won’t care, either, because this is a writer who leaps over genres.”—Los Angeles Times
About the Author
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. was an American writer. In a career spanning over 50 years, Vonnegut published fourteen novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five works of non-fiction, with further collections being published after his death.
JAMES FRANCO is the talented, ubiquitous, popular, and provocative actor, director, author, and visual artist. His first book, the story collection Palo Alto, was published in 2010. --This text refers to the audioCD edition.
- ASIN : B000SEGHT6
- Publisher : The Dial Press; 50th Anniversary edition (August 5, 2009)
- Publication date : August 5, 2009
- Language: : English
- File size : 2712 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 231 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #6,655 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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There's the obvious story, which is about Billy Pilgrim, a veteran and optometrist who is seemingly suffering from some sort of mental illness like PTSD from his time in the war, and also some sort of possible brain damage suffered from an airplane crash. These elements compound each other and Billy finds himself traveling through time to different points in his life; during his time in World War II, during his time with his wife Valencia, on a planet inhabited by the Tralfamadorians (who have him locked up as a human zoo exhibit), and a few others.
But then there is the author's underlying messages, one of which is about the utter senselessness of war. The Germans are making candles out of the Jews while Americans are melting German teenagers and we all know that the Soviets were starving tens of millions of their own while fighting the Germans. It's just a vicious cycle of death and evil.
The other message is a philosophical one. There's a very strong sense that there is no free will and there is also a sense of nihilism that no matter what we do, the outcomes are fixed, and the future unchanging.
I hope that the philosophical message isn't a correct one. I tend to side with those who believe strongly that we are in control of our fates and that no matter how dire the circumstances, we have the choice to make things a little bit better. Ironically I think Vonnegut has done exactly that with his book. He has made an impact with this book by bringing awareness to the evils of war.
Read the book. It's a good one.
“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.
Top reviews from other countries
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.
Vonnegut shows us the true colours of war. He dismantles all the naively romantic notions anyone may have about war, the unrealistic heroism and the false premise of winners and losers. I didn’t enjoy reading Slaughterhouse Five, but then it wasn’t written for anyone’s entertainment. It is stark, cruel and unforgiving. It is a warning. People die – good people, bad people, losers as well as conquerors, soldiers and civilians, youngsters and the elderly, dogs, horses, allies and enemies. No one is exempt. No one is immune. No one is above it. And so it goes. Vonnegut shows it in raw, ugly detail, and that detail is no fiction.
War and death equalise everyone. No nation is idealised and no nation is condemned in its collective totality. Faults and failings befall all. It is a brave concept not to idealise the winners. In fact, Vonnegut shows quite effectively that war destroys everyone and everything. Every construct of what’s right and wrong, good and bad, justifiable and inexcusable is absolutely false. The “victorious” Americans are bombed on par with German civilians in an “open” city of Dresden. The bombs don’t discriminate between “them” and “us”. It is all “us”. And this is the irony of it – wars are started because of divisions, but as they rage everyone pays the same price, feels the same pain and has only one life to lose.
My second reason was to explore the time-travel idea in the book. It is harrowing for Billy Pilgrim to go over and over again through his terrifying war experience. Time doesn’t work chronologically in this tale. The war never really ends. It remains present throughout Billy’s entire life. Events from his birth, childhood, wartime and his post-war civilian life are mingled together. The trauma he has lived through can never be consigned to the past. There is no past. There is no future. Time is not linear. Everything is happening simultaneously, all the time, and Billy jumps in and out of events while they carry on unfolding on an endless loop. Billy’s sojourn into the alien world of Tralfamadore is his brain’s way of coping with the scars left by the war on his psyche. Those who lived through war will never put it behind them. That message really hits home when you think of all those child refugees physically leaving war-affected areas but having to spend the rest of their lives trapped back there forever.
It is such a powerful idea. War is timeless. Once you have unleashed it, it will not end. Slaughterhouse Five should be a compulsory read for young people to digest before they enter adulthood in order to dispel their childhood “jolly-war” myths and shield them against glorification of war.
The film by George Roy Hill from 1972 is a fantastic adaptation of this 'unfilmable' book, worth taking a look.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 17, 2018
A book then to read and re-read. Just don't expect a happy ending.