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Happy Birthday, Wanda June

3.50  ·  Rating details ·  3,601 ratings  ·  125 reviews
In his first published play, Kurt Vonnegut finds a powerful vehicle for his tragicomical imagination. When the great hunter Harold Ryan--missing and presumed dead--returns from Africa after eight years, his wife is aghast and his son is enchanted. Vonnegut's attack on phony heroes and male swagger uses some of the funniest dialogue ever created for the stage.
Paperback, 224 pages
Published August 15th 1971 by Delta (first published 1970)
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3.50  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,601 ratings  ·  125 reviews

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Mar 08, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Second reading.
Not his best but quirky enough to be thoroughly enjoyable.

God Bless You Mr Vonnegut.

So it goes.
Oct 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
“Yeah, Jesus—but wars would be a lot better, I think, if guys would say to themselves sometimes, ‘Jesus—I’m not going to do that to the enemy. That’s too much.’”

“My violin is avenged!”

Chris Thompson
Jun 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Happy Birthday, Wanda June is Kurt Vonnegut's response to the uber-macho values of Ernest Hemingway, whose ideas of manliness involved killing animals for sport. This didn't just include Hemingway's fondness for bullfighting, whose goal is killing bulls as efficiently and elegantly as possible, but also Hemingway's hunting of exotic animals. Vonnegut wonders at the destructiveness of this sort of "heroic" manliness. It's the sort of thing that led to the United States dropping two atomic bombs o ...more
Dakota Sillyman
Oct 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I know a lot of people aren't very fond of this play, they wish Vonnegut would've stuck with novels. And who can blame them when his novels are so glorious?

But personally, I thought Wanda June was brilliant! It hilarious, dark, poignant, and supremely hopeful (just like all Vonnegut's work.) I rather enjoyed the fact it was in play format rather than novel or short story. It's an interesting experiment. The characters feel alive in a slightly different way, and the jokes land harder.

While Kurt
Jan 06, 2010 rated it liked it
What an odd, quick read. Vonnegut wrote only one play (thank goodness!) and set it as a retelling of Odysseus's return home from war set in the mid 20th century. Like the Odyssey, Penelope has several suitors and a son who lamely attempts to fight them off. The role of the returning war hero is Penelope's brutish husband, Harold, an older, gruffy, rude man who's been missing for 8 years while diamond hunting. A lover of big game, guns and "traditional" masculinity, he revels in his surprise retu ...more
Tyler Jones
Jan 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: drama, social-studies
Funny as hell, and surprisingly relevant more than forty years on. It exposes a truth - although it does so by over-exagerated means; that's part of why it's so funny.

Vonnegut, like many great playwrites, knew to give the villain all the good lines.
Apr 11, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: play-readers
Recommended to J by: Mr. King
Shelves: play
Dialogue never was Vonnegut's strong point. His brilliance came about in his descriptions of oddities and his simple, one-sentence life truths. So a play is less than ideal for ol' Kurt - it's just harder for him to convey what he's best at conveying in this format.

That having been said, this is reasonably funny and reasonably interesting and reasonably strange. It's just not the greatest play I've ever read, and not the greatest Vonnegut. Plus a copy is a bitch to rustle up.
Joseph Inzirillo
Mar 08, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The last time I read a play that made me laugh at the end and say wow, it was Beckett's Waiting for Godot. Well played Mr Vonnegut, well played...
Dec 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Highly enjoyable! I don’t read many plays, but if this is an indication of the fun and creative nature that modern playwrights can bring, I am interested to check out more. Only my second Vonnegut (other was Slaughterhouse), but his very inventive and witty bouts of dialogue and sarcastic double meanings are welcome respite from the overly serious and self-involved reading I typically pursue.
Maurizio Manco
"Un uomo, nel significato antico e perduto del termine... una scimmia vendicativa che uccide. Presto sarà estinta." (p. 140)
Aug 30, 2012 rated it liked it
This is the only play Kurt Vonnegut wrote. I hadn't heard of it before, but read it because my son is going to be in the play this fall.

The story is a take-off on Odysseus and the Odyssey. In this case it's the cruel, violent Harold Ryan who returns home after being missing for eight years. His wife, Penelope, has believed him to be dead and has accepted the attentions of two suitors; Dr. Norbert Woodly (my son's role) and Herb Shuttle, a vacuum cleaner salesman. Their son, Paul, never believed
May 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
My girlfriend and I were house-sitting a house this weekend. I was impressed to discover Wanda June on the bookshelf, as I know it's quite difficult to find. After contemplating taking it ("they won't notice, it's an old book, probably belonged to one of the kids that are now grown up" etc) I settled on the idea of reading it at the house.
After waiting for Deb to go to sleep, I tried to imagine that I was actually in a theatre, about to watch a play written by Kurt Vonnegut. This excited me enor
Feb 19, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: drama
I'm not surprised that Vonnegut chose to set Penelope's half of the Odyssey in the military build-up period of the 1950s. In many ways, it's very apt, as the conventions of Penelope's society don't allow her freedom to rule in ancient Greece or in the more modern suburbs. However, the choice of making her returning husband Harold Ryan a game hunter seemed less apropos to me. Why not just make him a general? Of course, I shouldn't quibble too much with the surrealities of the story; it was writte ...more
Eunji Kim
this book is out of print and rather difficult to find. i had pined for it, but refused to pay twenty bucks or more for a used book. my roommate bought for me for my 22nd birthday. it was pretty bad. but at least vonnegut was going for it. i think the pathetic play recounted in deadeye dick was the literary manifestation of his profound disappointment over this play. but it was bad. and he had every right to be disappointed. at least deadeye dick wasn't so bad.
Sep 12, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction, plays, satire
I love Vonnegut, but this is a mess. I don't know if he was bored or tired or had simply run out of ideas following Slaughterhouse-5, but there is almost nothing to recommend this. The humor is juvenile, and the satire is simplistic and overly obvious. Vonnegut fans may want to read it simply to check it off the list, but if you are simply curious about Vonnegut, do not start here.
Jan 18, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010, drama
I was glad I had read the introduction to the play before I read the actual script. I very much like the idea of a retelling of Odysseus' homecoming from a less heroic perspective. That said, the play felt fairly amateur. The characters were pretty flat and not a lot gets resolved. Also it feels really hung up in the era it was written.
Afro Madonna
Jul 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is the first Kurt Vonnegut anything I'm reading and I was definitely not disappointed. He reminded me of Woody Allen's works,especially his plays .I am definitely definitely reading all his works now. I .loved. this. Period.
Kim Caldwell
Mar 04, 2008 rated it liked it
The weirdest part for me was the dream I had later where I was in a movie version of the play that took place in my Chicago hotel room.

The play was fine. Very clever - could have been something bigger, but it wasn't. Eh.
Mar 05, 2008 rated it liked it
Not essential, but if you like Vonnegut it might be worth the short read. Wouldn't mind seeing it acted out if I have the opportunity.
Vonnegut is awesome, but plays are not his thing. Stick to his novels.
Dec 19, 2011 rated it it was ok
I don't think the author did as well with the play format as he did with the novels and short stories.
William Herbst
Jun 24, 2012 rated it it was ok
I like reading dramas and I like Vonnegut but this is not one of his better efforts.
Brad Bell
One of Vonnegut's only plays this playwright edition of "Happy Birthday, Wanda June" is tough to review. I enjoyed the dialogue between characters, as well as the heaven sequences with Wanda June who's killed on her birthday, her cake ends up in Penelope's (one of our main characters) house and a Nazi who was killed by Penelope's estranged husband Harold ( who's one of Vonnegut's more loathsome characters). Unfortunately the story is a bit overloaded with too many characters and the main story d ...more
Jan 31, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: play, 2018, classics, humor
The inscription on my frontispiece:

"Good intentions guided by ignorance and blasphemy leads only to frustration and futility.
Not worth the read.

(view spoiler)
Heather Hanson
Jan 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Vonnegut is one of my top 5 authors I've ever read. That being said, I don't think this is his best work. But it is definitely worth reading. There are some good one-liners in there. However, the "Wanda June" character is rather puzzling. The play is named after her, but she has nothing to do with anything. The characters never even find out who she is. I also came away not really certain if any of the characters grew or changed in the story. It is an interesting vignette of a family's life, but ...more
Robert Kenny
Mar 25, 2019 rated it it was ok
Most of Vonnegut’s books contain a fair amount of dark humor, but this one was merely dark and bitter without being clever or humorous. The people are cartoonish, lacking depth, and the dialogue is completely unnatural and awkward, especially considering it was written as a play and meant to be performed out loud. I’ve read most of Vonnegut’s books and have enjoyed the majority of them, but this play seemed lazy and simplistic. I’m not surprised that he abandoned playwriting after this attempt, ...more
Travis Kuhlman
Sep 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
It was interesting to see Kurt Vonnegut switch from novellas to a stage play and how he managed it. For the most part, his trademark style and humor carry over well. I enjoyed the story and dialogue and found it a relatively quick read (probably even faster if you're not a veterinary medicine student with limited time). I'd recommend it for anyone looking for a quick read and an interesting story.
Sarah Rigg
Nov 23, 2018 rated it liked it
Not one of Vonnegut's best, but still entertaining. As with most Vonnegut books, I'm guessing on the read date. I went on a bender and read most of his books available to me in the library in the mid/late 1980s.
Christina Delia
Nov 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Brimming with sadness and truth, peppered with humor...would be quite interesting to see performed on the stage. The first Wanda June monologue, as well as the dialogue between Wanda June and Von Konigswald detailing their club are especially poignant.
Henry Fosdike
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
A pretty good play. A tad unconventional but an easy read and filled with Vonnegut's usual humour.
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Kurt Vonnegut, Junior was an American novelist, satirist, and most recently, graphic artist. He was recognized as New York State Author for 2001-2003.

He was born in Indianapolis, later the setting for many of his novels. He attended Cornell University from 1941 to 1943, where he wrote a column for the student newspaper, the Cornell Daily Sun. Vonnegut trained as a chemist and worked as a journali