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Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
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's review
Aug 21, 07

really liked it

Soon after Vonnegut died quite a few stories were circulated about his real-life experiences as a POW in Dresden during WWII. Billy, the book’s main character, survived the firebombing just as Vonnegut did. Both recognized the good fortune of their underground prison vantage point when the flames incinerated the city above. Both had plenty to cope with, too. In telling Billy’s story, Vonnegut connects several themes. Not surprisingly, “war is hell” is one of them. Some of the other points set this work apart, though. For one, there's a feeling among many of those involved that you might as well just resign yourself to--or disengage yourself from--your situation. There’s a strong sense of the inevitable. (I don’t imagine prisoners feel much power to change the circumstances of their war.)

I suppose you could label this work science fiction, even though the elements that make it so are clichéd and simplistic. The sci-fi angle is one Vonnegut uses to good effect, though. It points out how otherworldly a war scene can feel, how memories can be real enough to throw the time continuum out of synch, and how some superior intelligence in the universe can explain, almost deterministically, why things are as they are and people do as they do.

Does Vonnegut himself believe in free will? If his brainy little space creatures serve as proxies, I’d say no. Something tells me he has a more active, moral role in mind for humankind, though, and this book was meant to suggest that by counterexample. Still, it’s a good question to ponder.
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Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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Susan So, you finally got around to reading Slaughterhouse Five all those years after meeting Vonnegut's cousin in a Paris laundromat. Have you read any of his other work, and if so, how does this one compare? The Vonnegut interview that I heard last spring made me curious about his work, and it would be fun to compare notes with you. I suppose this one's next on deck.

Steve I was prompted to read this when you mentioned how interesting that interview was, Susan. (The chance meeting with his cousin in the laundromat had little or no bearing.)

It was good getting reaquainted with his work, especially one that was so personal. I'd read Cat's Cradle many years ago and remember enjoying it. In fact, it was the first time I'd ever underlined a passage in something other than a text book. It was: "Fish got to swim, birds got to fly, man got to sit and wonder, 'Why, why, why?' Fish got to sleep, birds got to land, man got to tell himself he understand." How can you not like a book with insights like that?

I'm glad to see Slaughterhouse Five on your list, Susan. Knowing you, it'll take about a day to get through it. I'll look forward to hearing your impressions vis-a-vis the interview you heard about his true life experiences in Dresden.

Traveller Astute observations and musings in your review, I enjoyed reading it!

Steve Thanks, Traveller. I've never met a Tuvaluvian I disagreed with regarding Vonnegut.

Traveller Steve wrote: "Thanks, Traveller. I've never met a Tuvaluvian I disagreed with regarding Vonnegut."

I'll bet especially not one from Ambergris. :)

message 6: by Arthur (new)

Arthur Graham If you're at all interested in Vonnegut's war stories, you should give Armageddon in Retrospect a try. It's gotten mixed reviews, but I thought it was excellent.

Cecily I don't think there's any "suppose" about it: you have to accept a (partial) sci-fi tag, even if you don't like sci-fi in general: there are aliens and spaceships and time travel, for goodness sake!

If you can stomach another Vonnegut with a speculative fiction angle, try Galapagos (

message 8: by Babette (new)

Babette The principal horror in S5 is that the so-called Allies fire-bombed citizens/city FOR NO GOOD REASON AT ALL.

The "allies." Rhymes with "good guys."

Today the USA/UK and Israhell still pretend to be the "victims" of terrorism, when they are globally recognized as the world's #1 terrorists.

Welcome to Anareta.

Abbie Do you think Kurt Vonnegut wrote this story to persuade you to almost be "anti-war" like him and to feel sorry for Billy?

Steve Yea, I think it's unambiguously anti-war, Abbie. I like how it seems to go beyond that, too, in pondering the inevitability of war and what it says about humankind. The space creatures allow us to imagine that some greater intelligence than our own can sit in judgment of our collective flaws.

Abbie I agree. Do you think that if in the story Bernard would have died in the war and Billy wouldn't have been able to go talk to him about the war would the story would've changed?

Steve I'm sure that's a good question to pose to anyone who has a fresher memory of the book than I do, Abbie. It was long enough ago I read this that I don't recall specifics. That said, it seems like Vonnegut would have included Bernard for a reason, and the narrative worked well with him as a sounding board.

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