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Slaughterhouse-Five: A Novel (Modern Library 100 Best Novels) Paperback – January 12, 1999
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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“Poignant and hilarious, threaded with compassion and, behind everything, the cataract of a thundering moral statement.”—The Boston Globe
“Very tough and very funny . . . sad and delightful . . . very Vonnegut.”—The New York Times
“Splendid art . . . a funny book at which you are not permitted to laugh, a sad book without tears.”—Life
From the Inside Flap
"Slaughterhous-Five is one of the world's great anti-war books. Centering on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim's odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.
"From the Paperback edition.
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The truth of the matter is that it all sums up to nothing. In Slaughterhouse Five, we explore the age-old question of fate versus free will; in Vonnegut's view, there is only fate. Our decisions, actions, and interactions all add up to moments that are as they were meant to be, regardless if we think we have the capacity to change them.
This futility of action on pre-determined events sums up Vonnegut's view on war - it is a futile and senseless game, where one can meander in and out, unscathed, while others who tried so hard to change the tide of the battle die by the hundreds of thousands. This view of the lack of necessity of war became so particularly clear to me in this passage, where Pilgrim (Vonnegut's protagonist) describes a war film run in reverse, where destruction is neatly vacuumed up into the device of it's deliverance, where all humanity, (including Hitler) ages in reverse to become babies, and ..."conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed." The passage is beautifully written, showing the destructive power of war reversed, simply with a different perspective. Even more astounding, however, in this reverse timeline, is the return of all humans to the root of Adam and Eve as "perfect people". Vonnegut paints a stark contrast between God's creation of perfection, and Hitler's war machine of destruction in an attempt to achieve the same goal through the creation of an "Aryan" people.
Whether you agree with Vonnegut's view on war does not diminish his artful exploration of it, fate, and our purpose of existence (or lack there-of.) Worth reading.
The narrator is writing a book; this book is about Billy Pilgrim, who was at the WWII massacre at Dresden -- as was the narrator (and as was Kurt Vonnegut himself). Billy Pilgrim has the curious ability to mentally travel to different times in his life. He was also abducted by aliens at one point. "So it goes," as the narrator would say.
Billy's unique perspective on life renders him somewhat numb and casual when it comes to all the tragedies and horrors he witnessed in the war, and it wasn't until a later chapter it really sank in for me how sad his life was -- he knows the exact moment of each major moment in his life, and he just quietly flows through the sea of time, back-and-forth, back-and-forth, but ultimately powerless to effect any real change on the events of the world. Oh, and he might just be plain nuts.
I genuinely enjoyed this book and Vonnegut's sly, quiet way of eviscerating any romantic notion about WWII. My only real reticence about it is the inherent, post-modern jumbled narrative leaves behind a novel of disconnected vignettes; some are potent pieces of satire, while others feel like some of the more drawn out bits of a Twilight Zone episode. Not all of his methods of transmitting the moral quite landed.
That said, it delivers its message dutifully, and when absorbed as a whole (as the Tralfamadorians would encourage), it's marvelous how the pieces come together. This book's influence on both the anti-war novel and post-modern storytelling is clear, and I reckon it will continue to be held as a gold standard for a long, long time (for whatever 'time' means).
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A must read for anyone that wants to better understand this crazy world.