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Slaughterhouse-Five: A Novel (Modern Library 100 Best Novels) Paperback – January 12, 1999
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Kurt Vonnegut's absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.
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 the Library Binding edition.
From Publishers Weekly
"Listen: Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time." So begins Vonnegut's absurdist 1969 classic. Hawke rises to the occasion of performing this sliced-and-diced narrative, which is part sci-fi and partially based on Vonnegut's experience as a American prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany during the firebombing of 1945 that killed thousands of civilians. Billy travels in time and space, stopping here and there throughout his life, including his long visit to the planet Tralfamador, where he is mated with a porn star. Hawke adopts a confidential, whisper-like tone for his reading. Listening to him is like listening to someone tell you a story in the back of a busthe perfect pitch for this book. After the novel ends, Vonnegut himself speaks for a short while about his survival of the Dresden firestorm and describes and names the man who inspired this story. Tacked on to the very end of this audio smorgasbord is music, a dance single that uses a vintage recording of Vonnegut reading from the book. Though Hawke's reading is excellent, one cannot help but wish Vonnegut himself had read the entire text.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
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Top customer reviews
I recently read a short story, "Peace in Amber", by Hugh Howey which led me back to this book. I read the short story three times trying to understand it when I remembered Billy Pilgrim from "Slaughter House Five" so I quickly purchased it and re-read it. 40 years after reading this book in high school, I finally GET it and fully understand Peace in Amber (highly recommend it).
Kurt Vonnegut tells this tale in the third person as an onlooker following Billy Pilgrim who is a Private during WWII. This book is an emotional look behind trauma, fear, unbearable sadness, strength and resolve...just to name a few. It gives the reader (or in my case listener) a rare peek behind the emotional damage and coping skill a human being needs to develop just to survive these horribly traumatic experiences...dissociation, denial, fight or flight, hysteria...all the ingredients for long term mental illness, PTSD, severe depression, projection, etc.
This book is a heartbreaking, somewhat semi-autobiographical tale of Kurt Vonnegut's own experiences in WWII woven into the beautiful and horrifically sad journey of Billy Pilgrim that will weigh heavy on your heart long after the final sentence...
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.
This should be your introduction to Vonnegut. I've found that true Vonnegut fans don't often choose Slaughterhouse-Five as their favorite, but, instead choose one of Vonnegut's other wonders (Breakfast of Champions, Cat's Cradle, Sirens of Titan, etc.). I think that most would agree that this is a good jumping off point, just as, in music, people often start with Greatest hits albums and then work from there.
Only Vonnegut could make such a strange premise believable and emotional. The book shifts time and place from paragraph to paragraph without warning. It is about aliens and WWII. It all works so perfectly, however and is so profound to those who read carefully. Billy Pilgrim is one of the great characters in all of literature.