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Broad humor and bitter irony collide in this fictional autobiography of Rabo Karabekian, who, at age seventy-one, wants to be left alone on his Long Island estate with the secret he has locked inside his potato barn. But then a voluptuous young widow badgers Rabo into telling his life story—and Vonnegut in turn tells us the plain, heart-hammering truth about man’s careless fancy to create or destroy what he loves.

318 pages, Paperback

First published October 1, 1987

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About the author

Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

527 books32k followers
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 journalist before joining the U.S. Army and serving in World War II.

After the war, he attended University of Chicago as a graduate student in anthropology and also worked as a police reporter at the City News Bureau of Chicago. He left Chicago to work in Schenectady, New York in public relations for General Electric. He attributed his unadorned writing style to his reporting work.

His experiences as an advance scout in the Battle of the Bulge, and in particular his witnessing of the bombing of Dresden, Germany whilst a prisoner of war, would inform much of his work. This event would also form the core of his most famous work, Slaughterhouse-Five, the book which would make him a millionaire. This acerbic 200-page book is what most people mean when they describe a work as "Vonnegutian" in scope.

Vonnegut was a self-proclaimed humanist and socialist (influenced by the style of Indiana's own Eugene V. Debs) and a lifelong supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The novelist is known for works blending satire, black comedy and science fiction, such as Slaughterhouse-Five (1969), Cat's Cradle (1963), and Breakfast of Champions (1973)

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,748 reviews
5 reviews6 followers
March 31, 2007
One thing I've discovered is that people tend to have different favorites of Vonnegut's work. Many prefer Slaughter House Five, some love Breakfast of Champions, and my sister's favorite is Galapagos.

The only person I've ever met whose favorite Vonnegut book is Bluebeard is... me. So it goes.

The book follows former abstract expressionist painter Rabo Karabekian, serving as his autobiography and a mystery story simultaneously. The mystery? What is Rabo keeping in the huge potato barn on his large estate.

Some of you may remember Mr. Karabekian from Breakfast of Champions; he was largely the same character, albeit younger in years. He's famous for his paintings, you see: he would take huge canvases, spray paint them all one color, and put pieces of colored tape on them.

There's several jokes regarding Rabo's paintings, one of which he gave away in Breakfast: his work is Rabo's view of the human soul. When you strip away all of the unnecessary crap that makes us up, we're all basically glowing shafts of light, represented by the pieces of tape.

I won't give away the other joke, but it's a good one.

Anyway, this book is a lot of things: a reflection on an imaginary life, a faux biography, and a moral we could all probably take to heart. And we do get to find out what Bluebeard keeps in his potato barn. It's a darned big thing.

Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews867 followers
October 13, 2019
Image result for vonnegut meme bluebeard

“Everything about life is a joke. Don't you know that?”

From beginning to end, Bluebeard has Kurt Vonnegut written all over it. His irreverent tone, summed up in the quote above, along with his concomitant exploration of what it means to be human, brings together familiar themes in Vonnegut’s work. Bluebeard is the mock autobiography of abstract expressionist painter, Rabo Karabekian, a character who first appeared in Breakfast of Champions. This is a book about what art is and what it can do in a society in which, according to Karabekian, “the young people of today seemed to be trying to get through life with as little information as possible.”

For Karabekian, such information offers a connection to humanity and all of its symbols and cultural artifacts. It thus goes to the heart of what it means to be an artist. However, best-selling popular writer, Circe Berman (who moves in with Karabekian) tells him that such knowledge is useless. Their relationship reflects a debate between high and low culture. It is no surprise then that Karabekian and Berman have a very different view of the abstract expressionism Karabekian espouses. Karabekian is repeatedly asked to explain what his art is about. However, in a response that works for the artist as well as the writer, he repeatedly maintains that the artist doesn’t owe it to the public to give them what they want. What’s really wanted is a challenge.
Not sure how I’ll place it with other Vonnegut classics, but I really enjoyed Bluebeard! 4.5 stars

“The darkest secret of this country, I am afraid, is that too many of its citizens imagine that they belong to a much higher civilization somewhere else. That higher civilization doesn’t have to be another country. It can be the past instead—the United States as it was before it was spoiled by immigrants and the enfranchisement of the blacks.”

From Bluebeard (1987)

Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,295 followers
April 28, 2023
Poate vreți să experimentați o non epifanie și nu știți cum. Atunci să-l luăm pe Vonnegut ca magistru...

Nu e puțin lucru să izbucnești în rîs la (aproape) fiecare paragraf. Umorul lui Kurt Vonnegut e devastator. Îl admir de mai bine de 3 decenii. Despre ce e vorba în Barbă Albastră? Firește, firește, de o cămară secretă, ca în povestea lui Charles Perrault. Există, totuși, o mică diferență între roman și poveste. De data aceasta, Barbă Albastră (alias pictorul Rabo Karabekian) se lasă convins să deschidă ușa cămării interzise. Dar ceea ce vede însoțitoarea lui Rabo (prozatoarea Circe Berman) este și mai terifiant decît ceea ce a văzut soția lui Barbă Albastră.

Dacă vă plac umorul, salturile temporale și întorsăturile destinului, nu pregetați să citiți romanul lui Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Ați trăit vreodată o non-epifanie? Cum, nu știți ce înseamnă o non-epifanie? Atunci studiați cu atenție acest pasaj: „Personal n-am avut nevoie de nici un fel de instrucțiuni din partea femeii mai în vîrstă ca mine și mai experimentată [Marilee Kemp, n.m.]. Am nimerit ținta, am nimerit ținta și iar am nimerit ținta!” A trăi o astfel de întîmplare, precizează prietenul lui Rabo, Terry Kitchen, înseamnă „a experimenta o non-epifanie”...

P. S. Un amănunt anecdotic: în data de 22 august 2012, prolifica Amélie Nothomb a publicat (două sute de mii de exemplare, primul tiraj!) un roman de enorm succes cu titlul Barbă Albastră, tradus instantaneu în 46 de limbi și elogiat prompt, în L’Express și Le Soir, de critici literari foarte versați.
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,118 reviews3,964 followers
August 8, 2019
This is Vonnegut, so it’s quirky, knowing, silly, intelligent, funny, mysterious (what IS in the potato barn?) and anti-war – amongst many other things. It's conversational, and broken into very short chunks, but don't be deceived into thinking it's lightweight.

It claims to be the autobiography of Rabo Karabekian, an Armenian-American WW2 veteran who became a major figure in Abstract Expressionism, after an apprenticeship with realist illustrator, Dan Gregory. It reads more as a memoir, interspersed with “Bulletin from the present” sections which cover the eventful months he wrote it. The backstory is relatively straight; the present day, more comical. (All the main characters are fictitious, but a few real names are dropped, such as Jackson Pollock.)

It’s the 1980s, Rabo is in his 70s, and is living alone in a huge house in the Hamptons. He no longer paints, but is wealthy from his art collection and from property he inherited on the death of his second wife, Edith. He’s not actually alone, as his cook lives in, with her daughter, and his writer friend, Paul Slazenger, practically lives there. But he wants to be alone, or thinks he does – until it looks as if it’s going to happen (his mother thought “the most pervasive American disease was loneliness”). Then the widow Circe Berman turns up, and everything changes.

Image: abstract expressionist picture by Willem de Kooning, The Visit 1966–7. (Source.)

The Meaning and Value of Art

How can you tell a good painting from a bad one? All you have to do… is look at a million paintings, and they you can never be mistaken.

Should paintings – and their titles – communicate? (If not, what’s the point?) This is a recurring question, with a variety of answers. Old, lonely, and guarding his Abstract Expressionist paintings, Rabo says that they “are about absolutely nothing but themselves”, and lack of passion and message in his works was why he was rejected by art school. When Circe first sees his abstract works, she declares “you hate facts like poison”. And yet Rabo CAN draw – very well; the fact he doesn’t is “because it’s just too fucking easy.”

In contrast, Dan Gregory’s works are hyper-realistic, and Rabo describes them as “truthful about material things, but they lied about time” because Dan was “a taxidermist… [of] great moments”. One of the first things he taught Rabo was the importance of the phrase “The Emperor has no clothes”. It’s for the reader to decide which art that applies to.

There is a visceral thrill: “I discovered something as powerful and irresponsible as shooting up with heroin: if I start laying on just one colour of paint to a huge canvas, I could make the whole world drop away”. But it doesn’t work like that for everyone: of one artist, “I would look into his eyes and there wasn’t anybody home any more”, and he says similar about someone else.

Inflated art prices (and exploitative venture capitalists and investment bankers) are lampooned, especially by the fact that “My paintings, thanks to unforeseen chemical reactions… all destroyed themselves”, including ones that sold for $20,000. Sateen Dura-Luxe proved to be anything but durable. In contrast, his teenage works were made with the best possible materials, given to him from the stores of a successful artist.

Writing is another art form central to the narrative: Rabo is now writing; his friends Circe Berman and Paul Slazenger are also writers, of varying success, and the letters of Dan Gregory’s PA, Marilee, are crucial to the story. The secret is “to write for just one person”. How you decide who that is, is unclear.

Circe Berman

The widow Berman is a wonderful comic creation; I’d love to meet her, though hate to share a home with her. Her opening line on meeting Rabo is “Tell me how your parents died”, because “hello” means “don’t talk about anything important”. It’s also symptomatic of her pathological inquisitiveness (“the most ferocious enemy of privacy I ever knew”). His father died alone in a cinema, and she immediately asks “What was the movie?” – shades of Graham Greene’s short story, A Shocking Incident.

Her chutzpah is breath-taking – the way she storms into Rabo’s life and takes control of him, his house, his time and those around him. He is staggered, outraged… and compliant: “’Who is she to reward and punish me, and what the hell is this: a nursery school or a prison camp?’ I don’t asker that, because she might take away all my privileges.”

Bluebeard and What's in the Potato Barn

I read this book because I wanted to read another Vonnegut, and I was intrigued to see to what extent the title reflected the traditional story of Bluebeard (see my review of Angela Carter's version HERE), or even its echoes in Jane Eyre (see my review HERE).

It’s a gentle nod, but it helps if you’re aware of the original: In the grounds, Rabo has a potato barn that used to be his studio. It is now locked up, and its contents secret: “I am Bluebeard, and my studio is my forbidden chamber”, but “there are no bodies in my barn”.

Much of the book is an elaborate tease as to what’s in there, why, and whether the reader will ever find out. In contrast to his allegedly message-less paintings, Rabo says that the barn contains “the emptiest and yet the fullest of human messages”.

There are other forbidden places: Dan Gregory’s is the Museum Of Modern Art, Paul Slazenger’s is his Theory of Revolution, currently in his head, and Circe Berman must have something, but I don’t know what or where.

War, Death, and Resurrection

The main character is an injured veteran who came to the US as a child refugee from another war. It’s not a ranting pacifist book, and Rabo himself has fond memories of the army, but Vonnegut’s anti-war opinions shine through, especially at the end. Sometimes this is poignant: Rabo is utterly repulsed by the scarring around his missing eye, and always wears a patch. Sometimes it is more satirical: WW2 was promoted to Americans on promises of “a final war between good and evil, so that nothing would do but that it be followed by miracles, Instant coffee was one. DDT was another. It was going to kill all the bugs, and almost did. Nuclear energy was going to make electricity so cheap that it might not even be metered… Antibiotics would defeat all diseases. Lazarus would never die: How was that for a scheme to make the Son of God obsolete?”

In fact, it’s Rabo who is Lazarus. Circe explicitly says so when he complains about her intrusion into and control of him, “I brought you back to life… You’re my Lazarus”, and his beloved second wife, Edith, had had a similar effect.

As a youth, Rabo assumed society had evolved so that people would no longer be fooled by the apparent romance of war, but as an old man, he observes “you can buy a machine gun with a plastic bayonet for your little kid”.

The Inimitable Dan Gregory (Refrain)

The central third of the book feels as much like a biography of Dan Gregory as of Rabo.

Where Slaughterhouse Five has the recurring phrase “so it goes”, in this, it’s a series of superlatives about Dan Gregory: “Nobody could [do x] like Dan Gregory”. His achievements include: “draw cheap, mail-order clothes”, “paint grime”, “counterfeit rust and rust-stained oak”, “counterfeit plant diseases”, “counterfeit more accents from stage, screen and radio”, “counterfeit images in dusty mirrors”, “paint black people”, “put more of the excitement of a single moment into the eyes of stuffed animals”.


• “Never trust a survivor… until you find out what he did to stay alive.”

• “Perfectly beautiful cowboy boots… dazzling jewelry for manly feet.”

• “She had life. I had accumulated anecdotes.”

• Old canvases “Purged of every trace of Sateen Dura-Luxe, and restretched and reprimed… dazzling white in their restored virginity.”

• “They are a negation of art! They aren’t just neutral. They are black holes from which no intelligence or skill can ever escape. Worse than that, they suck up the dignity, the self-respect, of anybody unfortunate enough to have to look at them.” (What Rabo thinks of Circe’s choice of pictures.)

Suggested by Rand, as being in a similar vein to Vonnegut's excellent Galapogos (see my review HERE).
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,688 followers
March 17, 2017
“What a fool I would have been to let self-respect interfere with my happiness!”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard


A pseudo memoir of Rabo Karabekian a minor Abstract Expressionist whose art literally disappeared (thanks to a poor choice in paints). It is hard to relay what the book essentially is, but obviously it is an autobiography of an almost loner, a hermit with a roommate. He lives in his big house in the Hamptons among the art he bought cheap (Rothkos, Pollocks, etc) years ago. He is being bullied into writing his memoirs by Polly Madison, a writer of cheap blockbuster novels. At its heart, this novel is Vonnegut working his way through some of his previous big themes (war, isolation, humanism, pacifism) along with explorations of art, commerce, &c.

This isn't one of his better novels, but is firmly in the middle of the pack. I personally wish Vonnegut spent more time playing with the artistic canvas, but the sections he spent dealing with Rabo apprenticing under Dan Gregory (I get a N.C. Wyeth or Howard Pyle vibe), a very popular illustrator, is worth the entire cost of reading anything clunky in some of the other sections.
February 7, 2017
Όλη η ουσία κρυμμένη στο μυστικό της κλειδαμπαρωμένης παλιάς παταταποθήκης.

Μέχρι να αποκαλυφθεί το μυστήριο του Κυανοπώγωνα μπαίνουμε σε μια ιστορία ζωής παράδοξη και συμβατή με παγιωμένες αντιπολεμικές απόψεις,τραυματικά βιώματα και την αυτοκαταστροφή της καλλιτεχνικής ψυχής στο βωμό της Τέχνης.

Ο αφηγητής μας είναι ένας μονόφθαλμος βετεράνος του Β´παγκοσμίου πολέμου,γεννημένος απο γονείς που επιβίωσαν στην γενοκτονία των Αρμενίων και έζησαν ως μετανάστες στην Αμερική.

Ο ίδιος ένας αποτυχημένος ζωγράφος,φρικτός σύζυγος και απαράδεκτος πατέρας δυστυχώς κατανοεί πλήρως την ανεπάρκεια του σε όλους τους τομείς της ζωής και ζει απομονωμένος σε μια εξοχική πολυτελέστατη κατοικία 19 δωματίων με ιδιωτική παραλία,την οποία έχει μετατρέψει σε μουσείο για τα έργα των φίλων του. Όλοι οι υποτιθέμενοι φίλοι του ήταν στην μεταπολεμική Αμερική καλλιτέχνες του αφηρημένου εξπρεσιονισμού.

Όταν το κίνημα του αφηρημένου εξπρεσιονισμού θα αναγνωριστεί επισήμως,εκείνος ως κορυφαίος συλλέκτης θα αποκτήσει περιουσία εκατομμυρίων και ακράδαντη πεποίθηση πως δεν υπάρχει κανένα νόημα στην γερασμένη αναμονή.. για την έναρξη της αληθινής ζωής και των ανεκπλήρωτων προσδοκιών.

Στο φθινόπωρο της ζωής του είναι πάμπλουτος και συνειδητοποιημένος πως στο ατελιέ της ψυχής του δεν υπάρχει πλέον κανένα ουσιώδες έργο τέχνης.

Το ταξίδι μας γίνεται αναχρονιστικά στην Αμερική της οικονομικής κρίσης του '30, στην μεταπολεμική Αμερική της απαξίωσης του '50 και στην Αμερική του '80 και της κλεμμένης ιστορίας και νοοτροπίας.
Είναι μια θλιβερή ιστορία με χιούμορ.

Υπάρχει και ...«ένας πόλεμος για κάθε πελάτη».

Ξεκινάμε απο την γενοκτονία των Αρμενίων,προχωράμε στη φασιστική Ιταλία και τα αίσχη,συνεχίζουμε με το μακελειό του Β´παγκοσμίου πολέμου και τις εξελίξεις που μπορεί να επιφέρει η αιματοχυσία του πλανήτη,ακολουθεί η βαρβαρότητα του Πολέμου της Κορέας και απο πίσω της ο Πόλεμος του Βιετνάμ κατεβάζει για λίγο την αυλαία στο θέατρο της τραγικότητας της ύπαρξης.

Η φρίκη για τον άγριο και άδικο θάνατο καθώς και η παράνοια και η αυτοχειρία ως μέσω λύτρωσης στις ευαίσθητες και πολυτάλαντες ψυχές, αντιπαρατίθενται με το χιούμορ,την ειρωνία και τον εύστοχο σαρκασμό σε όλη την διάρκεια και την εξέλιξη της πλοκής.

Με κούρασαν οι αναφορές στις ιδιότητες της τέχνης ως μέσο επικοινωνιακό ή αυτόκλητο και μοναχικό.
Δεν κατάφερα να κατανοήσω αν πρέπει τελικά να αξιολογώ την τέχνη ως ανώτερη αναλόγως με την ρεαλιστική ή την αφηρημένη μορφή της,σύμφωνα με τον συγγραφέα.

Με όχημα το μαύρο χιούμορ και τις ανθρωπιστικές αξίες μας οδηγεί μέσα στους πολέμους,την ανέχεια,την περιορισμένη ευθύνη της αυτογνωσίας και την αξιοθαύμαστη επιρροή της τέχνης στην ανθρώπινη ύπαρξη.

Ευκολοδιάβαστο και με θλιβερά πικρό νόημα το βιβλίο τούτο.

Παρόλα αυτά δεν ικανοποίησε τα λάγνα αναγνωστικά μου ένστικτα.
Δεν κατάφερε να κορυφώσει τις αναγνωστικές μου εμμονές!

Καλή ανάγνωση
Πολλούς ασπασμούς.
Profile Image for Rowena.
500 reviews2,464 followers
June 4, 2013
This is maybe the fourth or fifth Vonnegut book I've read, having only been introduced to him recently, sadly. I'm becoming quite a fan of his writing. What I like about him is that a lot of deep truths mask the ironic and humorous statements he makes. Definitely a must-read for those who like satire.
Profile Image for Jean-Luke.
Author 1 book384 followers
July 22, 2022
"—simply moderate giftedness has been made worthless by the printing press and radio and television and satellites and all that. A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of work, since modern communications put him or her into daily competition with nothing but the world’s champions."

Nobody could spin a story like Kurt Vonnegut. The usual—Great Depression, WWII, New York City, a father estranged from his children, an inordinate sum of money—along with a potato barn in East Hampton. And a writer of young adult fiction. And a town called San Ignacio. And an illustrator fanboying for Mussolini. And God knows how many cans of Sateen Dura-Luxe. Full of writers not writing and painters not painting. No longer will the Hamptons call to mind only Grey Gardens and A Widow for One Year. Masterful!
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,867 reviews16.5k followers
November 5, 2019
Rabo Karabekian was the artist in the art exhibit in Midland City, Ohio that caused so many people to dislike art in Vonnegut’s 1973 novel Breakfast of Champions.

An abstract expressionist, he had sold to the art festival a huge painting that was a green canvas with a piece of orange tape vertically affixed to it. For this he had been paid thousands of dollars. The local economy was struggling at the time and many non-artists resented him and his high falooting ways. (He was something of a snooty ass).

But when a cocktail waitress confronted him for his arrogance and the apparent fraud he had committed by selling the meaningless painting, he stole the show in one of the finest scenes from that novel by explaining that he had demonstrated in minimalist fashion the ascendancy of a soul reaching for heaven.

Fourteen years later, Kurt Vonnegut returns to Rabo for what is ostensibly an autobiography of the aging artist but what is of course another witty and cynical book by one of America’s greatest novelists.

Rabo describes his life as an Armenian American, whose parents had escaped the Turkish genocide of their people only to be swindled by another Armenian on their way to California. From these humble beginnings we follow Rabo to New York where he is an apprentice to a famous illustrator to World War II and beyond to his fleeting success as an artist.

Here’s the thing:

The paint he used on all of his abstract expressionist paintings was defective and fell apart by and by.

So we follow Kurt Vonnegut on another journey, this time exploring art, and humanity, and love, and insanity, and war and capitalism and culture.

And like the scene from Breakfast of Champions, we learn that there is more to Rabo Karabekian, like most of us, than meets the eye.

Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
860 reviews2,182 followers
November 12, 2018
Come Dancing

By the time I reached the last chapter of this novel, I realised that Kurt Vonnegut had taken me dancing, just as Rabo Karabekian had finally taken Mrs Circe Berman dancing.


71 year old Rabo sets off to write his autobiography, but soon discovers that it has equally become a diary of the summer of its writing in his elegant mansion on Long Island (inherited from his recently deceased second wife, Edith).

Rabo started his working life as a cartoonist and illustrator, devoted much of it to Abstract Expressionism (which he tired of) and ceased painting, but for one last work which tries to fill the gap between facile populist art ("They are a negation of art! They aren't just neutral. They are black holes from which no intelligence or skill can escape. Worse than that, they suck up the dignity, the self-respect, of anybody unfortunate enough to have to look at them") and post-modernist art works which aren't supposed to mean anything, and are "about absolutely nothing but themselves."


There's a nice irony about this self-reflexiveness, because it's actually a concern of the novel itself, which is much more and far greater than a run of the mill work of white American male metafiction.

Rabo the illustrator and painter was an expert, if self-trained, draughtsman ("you could really draw"), a skill he largely abandoned, when he became part of the New York Abstract Expressionist movement. His work reflected meat, but not soul, and that ultimately is the principal concern of the narrative. How can Rabo get his soul/groove (his "pure essence of human wonder") back? The answer might be in the potato barn he has used for a studio.

The Anti-Modernist Mentor

Rabo's early mentor was Dan Gregory, a highly successful master of fake or counterfeit realism (much in the style of Norman Rockwell). His obituary describes him as "possibly the best-known American artist in history."

Gregory knew he had succeeded when he learned to pass a fake bank note for a real one. Gregory makes Rabo promise to learn by heart the sentence, "The Emperor has no clothes." He regards modern art (as found in the Museum of Modern Art) as "the work of swindlers and lunatics and degenerates."

How is that for trivia?

The Kitsch Writer

Circe Berman is actually a popular author of kitsch young adult novels that are "useful, frank and intelligent, but as literature hardly more than workmanlike" (under the pseudonym, Polly Madison), who is writing a biography of her deceased husband, Abe (a brain surgeon).

Rabo talks to her about the most pleasing aspects of being an artist. She asks if it is "having my first one-man show, getting a lot of money for a picture, the comradeship with fellow painters, being praised by a critic?"

Rabo asks Mrs Berman whether, for a writer, it is "getting great reviews, or a terrific advance, or selling a book to the movies, or seeing somebody reading your book?"

The Laying on of Paint

It's interesting to contrast painting and writing.

Rabo seems to emphasise the process of painting - the laying on of paint. Mrs Berman says it's handing in a finished manuscript and never wanting to see it again.

Regrettably, too many post-modernist authors rely more heavily on critical acclaim (or the acclaim of their coterie), especially those who derive their primary income from academia (or writing courses that duplicate their own style). "Nowadays, of course, every novelty is celebrated immediately as a masterpiece!"

Vonnegut, while claimed by post-modernists as one of their own when trying to assert the importance of their movement, is more often scorned because of his popular and commercial success, i.e., for developing a large and appreciative audience beyond the coterie/ the gang.

So be it.

There Ain't Nothing You Can't Do

Earlier, an art lecturer says to Rabo:

"Technically speaking, there's nothing you can't do...I think - I think - it is somehow very useful, and maybe even essential, for a fine artist to have to somehow make his peace on the canvas with all the things he cannot do. That is what attracts us to serious paintings, I think: that shortfall, which we might call 'personality,' or maybe even 'pain'."

He adds:

"[The very first picture in your portfolio] told me, 'Here is a man without passion.' And I asked myself what I now ask you: 'Why should I teach him the language of painting, since there seems to be absolutely nothing which he is desperate to talk about?' "

Rabo's last painting remedies this defect, except that we can only perceive it in words. Initially, he describes it as a "watchamacallit". But eventually he tells us it is a portrait of a happy valley and the people who have been transported there at the end of the war in Europe.


The title of the novel comes from a comment by Rabo to Mrs Berman:

"I am Bluebeard, and my studio is my forbidden chamber as far as you're concerned."

But that's not where the novel ends.

Goodbye. It's your turn now.

Profile Image for Brett C(urrently overseas again).
784 reviews165 followers
May 16, 2021
I have read several Kurt Vonnegut books and this one is excellent. I enjoyed this one because the tone felt different in comparison his other works. This book was not necessarily positive or upbeat, but was optimistic. Feelings of sentiment, reflection, and loneliness were rich in the story.

The story told by main character, Rabo Karabekian, who is an artist writing his autobiography. I felt Rabo was cleansing and purging his past emotional pains and experiences through art: in both painting and writing.

I thought the overarching theme was perseverance: surviving the Armenian Genocide, being resilient and overcoming, facing forward and having courage in war, and enduring as an apprentice only to become an "just an artist". The final painting in the barn muraled pain, death & suffering, and survival all on one canvas.

I really liked this one because it was sentimental. I would recommend this one in addition to 'Slaughterhouse-Five', 'Mother Night', and 'Player Piano' if you are new to Kurt Vonnegut. Thanks!

"You don't write for the whole world, and you don't write for ten people, or two. You write for just one person."
Profile Image for Brian.
688 reviews335 followers
February 5, 2016
Kurt Vonnegut wrote so many books that sometimes a real gem gets lost in the shuffle. "Bluebeard" is just such a novel. I don't know many people who have read it, and that is simply a shame! It is a unique text (it varies greatly from the so called "Vonnegut style") and is a pretty conventional narrative that deals with many of the standard Vonnegut themes in a more easily accessible manner.
The novel is the autobiography of an artist who has become a footnote in the history of Abstract Expressionism and the mid twentieth century art movement in the United States. He is a wealthy inhabitant of the Hamptons, the child of Armenian immigrants, and a man waiting for death. His name is Rabo Karabekian. He also has a secret locked under tight security in his potato barn. Those are all the plot points you are going to get from me.
With this rather simple premise, we are given an exploration of the usual Vonnegut fare: God (and man's connection to him) war (especially WW II) man's inhumanity to man, friendship, the accidental nature of life and love, and the power of that divine in all of us...the soul. No one can bring these disparate elements together in a manner more interesting than Kurt Vonnegut, and "Bluebeard' does so in a very pleasing and rather un-ironic (for Vonnegut) way.
"Bluebeard' is written as a sort of diary, from the first person perspective of the novel's protagonist, Rabo Karabekian, and is told in the conventional linear format, with flashbacks seemingly every other paragraph. For Mr. Vonnegut, that is linear! The text has its up and downs, and the reader experiences the highs and lows of Rabo's life. There are no "spectacular" moments that pop up in the book, just life moments, some good and some bad. The book builds to a climax that is the most uplifting and life affirming that I have come across, so far, in the Vonnegut oeuvre and I was stunned and pleased by it. It was unexpected, tidy, and very appropriate.
Life is good and ill mixed together, but that does not mean that we are not supposed to enjoy it, or be dismissive of its importance. Rather, we are to be as Rabo says, "A Lazarus". We all need from time to time to be woken from the dead dreary depression of life. Vonnegut seems to be saying that if we hang on to that hope, and practice it when we can then that is enough and we should be content. I think he might just be right.
29 reviews1 follower
January 16, 2008
Wow. This was a novel that's going to keep me thinking for a long, long time. It was everything jam packed into a small little book: clever, tragic, engrossing, laugh out loud funny, imaginative, unexpected, and even transformative, I think. There are so many layers to this book I'm sure I'll be thinking about it off and on for the next several months at least and will almost definitely re-read this book a number of times before I reach room temperature.

Check it out: The protagonist/autobiographer is a veteran who lost an eye in WWII who later becomes one of the biggest jokes of the Abstract Expressionist art movement because all of his art disintegrates due to a poor choice of paint. He started life as an illustrator who couldn't make it as a 'real' artist because his paintings lacked depth and vision. And then he goes off to WWII and LITERALLY LOSES HIS SENSE OF DEPTH by having one of his eyes shot out. Ironically, I think it's this literal and figurative lack of depth perception that enables him to survive and not commit suicide while all of his other artist friends don't. There is more to this thing about eyes and perception, too. When both his father and some other artists are at their most creative, their eyes become dead. Half of this guy's eyes are already dead, so he's not able to see what they're seeing, so he can't be harmed/driven to suicide by it. It's only at the very end of the book, perhaps when he's finally old/strong/mature/stable enough to cope with everything he's seen is he really able to paint something that combines the objective reality of illustration and the visceral experience of abstract expressionism. This shit was some mind-freeing stuff for me. Reading it right now for some reason.

And then there's the whole thing about forbidden rooms and curiosity...the name of the book itself, and whatever it is that the guy has locked away in the potato barn. Both the original Bluebeard story and Vonnegut's have curious, prying women, too.

But the thing that's occupying my mind about the book right now is endings. In one part of the book, a female character talks about how Ibsen's The Doll House ended the wrong way. The Doll House's female lead leaves the house and everyone's left to assume she goes to Happily Ever After. But the woman in Bluebeard believes she throws herself in front of a train. Mostly because there really was no Happily Ever After for women at that time. Only more doll houses. I read that and I'm, like, "Yeah, life is harsh and it's crappy to have books end happily. Good books gotta end sad." So then this book goes and ends on a positive note. At first I was pretty bummed that everything works out in the end. But then I thought, "It's only ME who tacks on the 'Happily Ever After' part. Even though he has started the process of healing, this guy has a whole long row to hoe that is not going to be happy, pretty or any other easy positive word." In the same way that Vonnegut's character has finally found a way to combine literal but soulless illustration with abstract expressionism, maybe I'm getting closer to being able to see 'happily ever after,' and 'life is still super hard' as two sides of the same simultaneously experienced reality.

I have been going on like this in my head since I finished this book 24 hours ago and things just seem to be speeding up, as far as I can tell. The sign of a great book, in my book.
Profile Image for Matt Quann.
628 reviews382 followers
April 21, 2017
This was a lovely reintroduction to Vonnegut after a nearly eight year hiatus. I remember loving his style and staccato rhythm of his prose. Slaughterhouse-Five remains one of my favourite novels and was one of the first that made me think science fiction could be much more than explosions and cool scenes. Bluebeard, by contrast, is an entirely realist novel about the abstract expressionist art movement.

Although it's only a little bit about that too.

What it's really about is Rabo Karabekian, ageing hermit, art collector, and life-regretter with a secret something in his potato barn. His hermitage is interrupted by Circe Berman, a writer of what sure sounds like YA novels, who endeavours to change his life, much to his chagrin. The novel involves many other characters who would be poorly introduced by myself in comparison to their richness as presented by Vonnegut. All the characters here are wonderfully realized and I was sad to see them go by novel's end.

I love how Vonnegut is able to tie tethers through time to connect a character's past to their actions throughout their lives without shoving it down the reader's throat. If Rabo is suffering, he does so without expending page upon page in melancholy and it's to Vonnegut's credit that he makes the reader feel it in a sentence or two. The novel is structured as Rabo's memoirs, but plays loosely with linearity in a way that felt more playful than willfully experimental. In fact, it's a trait I remember loving from my earlier readings of Vonnegut.

I'm not sure if this is a well-known Vonnegut novel, but I was pleasantly surprised when it was chosen as our latest book club read. It was compelling, hilarious, heartfelt, and manages to be an uplifting story despite having some portions which seem like they would be highly unpleasant to have lived. I was touched by many scenes and inexplicably astounded by the reveal in the potato barn even though it is no immense twist. Bluebeard was a surprise and managed to slowly creep up on me with its charm. This one is definitely worth a read and has helped to rekindle my love for Vonnegut.
Profile Image for João Reis.
Author 78 books527 followers
February 3, 2023
Not his best. Actually, maybe his worst.
After reading many of Vonnegut's books, some elements begin to get tiresome, like a (fairy) tale told several times with little variations. Casual encounters, big fortunes, and so on. But there are too many bizarre coincidences in this one. War is bad, capitalism too, money is great though, and so on and so forth. Can't reach the level of Galápagos, etc. Felt a bit too Anglo-Saxon mainstream on some occasions, despite being so full of insights into American society, as valid then as now. The dialogues are bland, sometimes awful, and the last fifth of the novel offers a sickening sweet-sentimental plot, not to call it kitsch as hell.
Still, there are some bright moments, and Vonnegut makes always for an entertaining read.
Profile Image for Kevin.
495 reviews83 followers
May 23, 2019
Vonnegut's 1987 indictment of the fickle subjectivism surrounding the art and artists of the post-war era. Vonnegut candles the egg, if you will, of expressionism and throws a little light on the lunacy that often surrounds 'modern art.'

This novel, like every Vonnegut novel I've ever read, is tragic - but it has that patented KV infusion of humor and that familiar air of decency and humanity that makes it oh so enjoyable to read.
Profile Image for George K..
2,366 reviews291 followers
September 29, 2018
Πέμπτο βιβλίο του Κερτ Βόνεγκατ που διαβάζω, αλλά τόσα χρόνια που πέρασαν από την τελευταία φορά που διάβασα βιβλίο του (Μάιος του 2011), είναι σαν να τον γνωρίζω για πρώτη φορά. Ειλικρινά δεν ξέρω γιατί απείχα τόσα πολλά χρόνια από τα βιβλία του, ενώ τα προηγούμενα λίγο έως πολύ με είχαν ξετρελάνει (εκτός, ίσως, από το "Σλάπστικ", που θυμάμαι ότι μου είχε φανεί κάπως αδύναμο). Πρόκειται για ένα ιδιαίτερο και σχετικά ιδιόρρυθμο βιβλίο, μια μίξη αυτοβιογραφίας και ημερολογίου, το οποίο εν πολλοίς μιλάει για την Τέχνη, την καλλιτεχνική φύση, τον πόλεμο και την αυτογνωσία, με ύφος έντονα σαρκαστικό και αρκετά κυνικό. Η γραφή είναι πραγματικά εξαίσια, ρέει σαν γάργαρο ν��ρό, μόνο αυτή αρκεί για να λατρέψει κανείς το βιβλίο, ανεξάρτητα αν βρει του γούστου την πλοκή ή τους χαρακτήρες. Η πλοκή δεν λέει και πολλά πράγματα εδώ που τα λέμε, αλλά φυσικά ένα τέτοιο βιβλίο δεν χρειάζεται καμία πλοκή για να καταπλήξει με θετικό τρόπο τους αναγνώστες. Περνάει μηνύματα, προσφέρει εικόνες και συναισθήματα χάρη στην φοβερή γραφή, οι χαρακτήρες έχουν και αυτοί το ενδιαφέρον τους όντας κάπως ιδιόρρυθμοι, οπότε υποθέτω ότι αυτά αρκούν για να αγαπήσει κανείς το βιβλίο. Και, εντάξει, μιλάμε για βιβλίο του Βόνεγκατ, οπότε δύσκολα δεν θα μείνει κάτι στον αναγνώστη μετά το τέλος της ανάγνωσης.
Profile Image for Jonathan K (Max Outlier).
614 reviews117 followers
October 2, 2021
After years of being away from Vonnegut and his world, the return reminded me why I'd left it! I enjoy his humor but the lack of focus and constant switching of time frames drove me nuts! It's a fun story filled with odd ball characters which is one of several trademarks of the author. I enjoy authors who stray from the ordinary but this one did not work for my tastes. I have to give him credit for creative character development though the plot fails to rise to the same level. If you're unfamiliar with his approach, it's worth reading but keep in mind you're in for a battle of time frames and barrage of characters that require a scorecard to keep track!
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,922 reviews1,258 followers
August 28, 2011
I read Vonnegut now. Vonnegut is cool.

I have vague memories of reading Vonnegut before—I have some very old, very pulp editions of some of his other novels that I … er … “liberated” from my father. I swear I’ve read Breakfast of Champions before, and I’m pretty sure I read either Cat’s Cradle or Player Piano at my sister’s wedding. I remember this because I was only 15, but the server still offered me wine (I declined). Suffice it to say, although Vonnegut is associated with some interesting memories, this is really the first of his novels that I have read as an adult, and the first one I remember well enough to review.

Bluebeard is easy to read and, therefore, easy to dismiss. Thanks to the conversational first person narration and the consistent switching between Rabo’s reminiscences and the present day at his home in the Hamptons, Bluebeard feels like a light novel. Yet this is also a story about genocide survivors, abusive relationships, the horror of war, and the horror of mediocrity. This book is an excellent example of how levity can be just as good at delivering a polemic against war as more gritty, realistic depictions like you might find in The Kindly Ones or in Hollywood movies.

Vonnegut has some choice words for the way movies, in general, portray war. His narrator, Rabo Karabekian, points out that most of the veterans in those movies are the age he was when he returned home, and not the young striplings whose lives are shattered on the front. In general, as one familiar with Vonnegut might expect, utter disdain for war and for the glorification of war pervades Bluebeard, almost dripping off the pages. What makes the book so impressive—and so successful—is how Vonnegut manages to do this in such a pithy way:

That was an ordinary way for a patriotic American to talk back then. It’s hard to believe how sick of war we used to be. We used to boast of how small our Army and Navy were, and how little influence generals and admirals had in Washington. We used to call armaments manufacturers “Merchants of Death.”

Can you imagine that?

Coming from a country whose armed forces are routinely ridiculed for their perceived lack of personnel or equipment, I totally can, Rabo. I love this passage so much, because it demonstrates the irony of contemporary ideas of American patriotism—failing to support the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan somehow makes one “un-American”, or at the very least constitutes a “suspicious” action, a black mark on one’s patriotism. Vonnegut, the Vietnam War no doubt weighing heavily in his mind as he wrote this, wanted to remind us that the militaristic mindset that accompanied the United States’ rise as a twentieth-century superpower was not always the status quo.

Rabo Karabekian is an awesome narrator in general, because he does not bullshit. He strikes me as a man who knows exactly who he is, who is comfortable with his place in the world, who accepts his flaws and failures and position of mediocrity. In the end, he is as divested of illusions as it is possible for a human to be. This is an incredibly refreshing type of narrator to have. Rabo doesn’t ask for forgiveness and doesn’t offer up excuses (beyond joining us in shaking our heads at his youthful naïvety). He is self-deprecating, but he does not wallow in self-pity. He has been through war. He married, divorced, married again, and survived his second wife. He is American in citizenship and, mostly, in sentiment, yet he has taken up the flag of his father to carry on their cultural heritage as Armenians—he leaves all his property and wealth to his estranged sons, on the condition that they legally change their names and those of his grandchildren back to “Karabekian”.

So Rabo is complex yet comfortable, and he is definitely the heart of this story. That might seem obvious given that Bluebeard is a fictional autobiography, but I would argue that there’s a difference between being the main character in one’s story and being its heart. In the end, despite invoking a number of famous people (both real and fictional), the story and its lessons are about and for Rabo Karabekian. A different Rabo, one less sympathetic or more clever, would still be the main character of his own life, but would he make the book enjoyable? Would he be able to pull off the levity that allows Vonnegut to juxtapose war with abstract art? I’m not sure, but I’m glad I don´t have to find out!

Rabo owes this state of grace in part to his artistic struggles and the conflict between his technical mastery and his stillborn passion. He also owes it, however, to the effects of Circe Berman, a widow who shows up on his private beach, invites herself to stay at his place, and slowly transforms his home and his life. Overbearing and irksome, Circe is nevertheless a positive influence on Rabo. I say this knowing full well that if some woman redirected my foyer without my permission, I, being the incorrigible 21-year-old that I am, would probably not handle it as well as Rabo does, all things considered! :D The interaction between Rabo and Circe is by far one of the best aspects of Bluebeard, because it is rife both with real tension and with real respect between the two parties. This is evident in how Rabo decides to reveal the contents of his potato barn to Circe.

At one point, Rabo has a very frank conversation with his cook and her daughter, Celeste, in which we learn that despite employing her for years, Rabo has never remembered his cook’s name (it’s Allison, Allison White). Indeed, when Rabo kicks out Circe, Allison gives notice, stating that she can’t stand working for him any more without Circe around to improve the atmosphere of the house. It’s not that Rabo is a bad person, but he has fallen out of practice interacting with people as human beings, and Allison accuses him of being “scared to death of women”. Rabo’s relationships with women throughout Bluebeard are certainly interesting and rocky. As an adolescent, he forms an attachment to Marilee Kemp, who is eleven years his senior and takes on the role of guardian angel/patron saint, ultimately bringing Rabo to New York to apprentice to Dan Gregory. Rabo eventually loses his virginity to Marilee and then foolishly takes her “you have to leave now” speech at face value, always thinking of her for years but never trying to win her back.

When next they meet, she upbraids him thoroughly for this, and through her Vonnegut has some harsh words to deliver about war and women:

“The whole point of war is to put women everywhere in that condition. It’s always men against women, with the men only pretending to fight among themselves.”

“They can pretend pretty hard sometimes,” I said.

“They know that the ones who pretend the hardest,” she said, “get their pictures in the paper and medals afterwards.”

The “condition” to which Marilee refers is the situation of being desperate for food and protection for themselves and their children. Viewed in this way, war is a mechanism for the oppression of women. The reward for participating in this oppression is glory and power, which is exactly what is promised for participating in colonialism/imperialism as well:

Lecturers traveled all over Northern Europe with such pictures in olden times. With assistants to unroll one end and roll up the other, they urged all ambitious and able persons to abandon tired old Europe and lay claim to rich and beautiful properties in the Promised Land, which were practically theirs for the asking.

Why should a real man stay home when he could be raping a virgin continent?

It’s all very tongue-in-cheek, but there is also a layer of seriousness here, because Vonnegut is both condemning the imperialism of the past (which is easy to do) and criticizing our society for letting it continue. We acknowledge the wrongs of the past even as we deny those of the present. I know that, for me personally, we learned about atrocities like the residential schools in Canadian history class, but there was always this subtext that “things are better now”. Well, they are better, in some ways, and maybe in other ways they’re worse too. When you grow up and leave the history classroom for the less comfortable world outside, you realize that nothing is really so simple as the textbook makes it appear. And so I conclude with my single most favourite quotation from Bluebeard:

The darkest secret of this country, I am afraid, is that too many of its citizens imagine that they belong to a much higher civilization somewhere else. That higher civilization doesn’t have to be another country. It can be the past instead—the United States as it was before it was spoiled by immigrants and the enfranchisement of the blacks.

This state of mind allows too many of us to lie and cheat and steal from the rest of us, to sell us junk and addictive poisons and corrupting entertainments. What are the rest of us, after all, but sub-human aborigines?

I was born in 1989, so I can’t attest to the zeitgeist Vonnegut was addressing when he wrote Bluebeard. Nevertheless, the above quotation certainly captures my mind in 2011. We celebrate—and rightly so—the declarations of human rights, of equality regardless of gender or ethnicity or sports team, the victories we have so far achieved. Yet there is still so much to do, so much inequality to address, not only within countries that lack or struggle with democracy but even in so-called “developed” countries like Canada and the United States. Yes, in 1867 we became an independent dominion, and a parliamentary democracy as well. But it wasn’t until 1918 that women could vote federally. And, I did not know this, but according to Wikipedia, prior to 1960, First Nations people had to give up their status in order to vote! So we can be proud of being 144 years old, Canada, but it has been a long, hard road towards equality, and we still aren’t there yet.

But I digress. I digress, because even though Bluebeard is a thin book with a light tone, it makes me meditate upon weighty subjects. I have to commend Vonnegut for this, for he has created a book that raises important questions yet still leaves me curiously uplifted. With that secret in the potato barn, I feel like Rabo is saying to us, “Come on, people, let’s get our act together: we can do this!” We can remember the past, learn from the past, and avoid repeating its mistakes. But first we must remove the scales from our eyes and sacrifice our illusions to see the world as it is. And this is where I attempt to connect all of this to the motif of abstract art, which thus far I have lamentably neglected. Rabo can draw so realistically that it is scary; he doesn’t exercise this talent, however, because, “it’s just too fucking easy”. And as we see repeatedly throughout Bluebeard, depicting the world ultra-realistically is not the same thing as seeing it. Sometimes a strip of tape is secretly six deer in a forest glade.

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Profile Image for Paul Dembina.
409 reviews84 followers
March 21, 2023
Definitely one of Vonnegut's lesser novels. The trope of an imperfect elderly man looking back over his life is starting to feel repetitive
Profile Image for Alejandro González Medina.
111 reviews6 followers
July 30, 2021
No es frecuente que la sociedad de la postguerra suscite en el escritor el uso de un tono amable y cálido. Antes bien, encontramos auténticos maestros del gris oscuro casi negro. Kurt Vonnegut es una de las grandes excepciones, pues no abandona un profundo pesimismo sobre la condición humana, casi cercano a Schopenhauer, pero con un tono indonfundible de guasa y recochineo, rico en sarcasmos, que despierta las delicias de sus admiradores, entre los que me encuentro.

Si en "Matadero cinco" Vonnegut se despachaba agusto con el militarismo, "Barbazul" se erige como una crítica feroz contra el mundo del arte, concretamente el del expresionismo abstracto, sin dejar de lado la reflexión humanista sobre los conflictos bélicos (nobleza obliga). Por sus párrafos, desfilan mediocres que se disfrazan de artistas incomprendidos, genios confundidos con mediocres, el divismo de los mimados por el stablishment y los gustos populares... y ninguno se salva de la pluma de Vonnegut, aunque muestre cierta predilección por los fracasados.

Es imposible analizar la estructura y el estilo de esta obra sin establecer paralelismos evidentes con la citada "Matadero cinco". Ambas presentan una narración no lineal y de carácter fragmentario, pero en "Matadero cinco" es muy complicado establecer una línea temporal, algo que no sucede en "Barbazul", donde las disgresiones son el principal motor de la mayor parte de los saltos temporales, lo que da un mayor realismo frente a los "viajes astrales" de Billy Pilgrim. El estilo, sobre todo de los diálogos y, en menor medida, de las reflexiones, del joven Rabo Karabekian recuerda a las del Pilgrim soldado, un candor de juventud naïf, adquiriendo un mayor pesimismo cuando la perspectiva cambia a la del Karabekian viejo y recluido. En cualquier caso, es un estilo desenfadado, fresco y sin demasiados retoricismos.

Adoro a Vonnegut. Hace falta más mala leche de este tipo en la literatura actual.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,153 reviews62 followers
May 27, 2016
I picked this to read as a little birthday treat to myself and, true to form, Vonnegut didn't let me down.

Once apprentice to 'great man' and famous illustrator Dan Gregory before becoming one of the founders of an important abstract art movement, even if he was the least talented of the lot, Rabo Karabekian is now a septuagenarian content to live out his days in his well-off dead wife's family home, on the proceeds of his extremely valuable art collection and his only company his cook, her daughter and his best friend, Paul Slazenger. But then Rabo meets the widow Circe Berman, who bulldozes her way into his life and his home and immediately starts changing things, including the decor. She's even got him to write the autobiography that we're reading now, probably in the hopes of finding out just what he's got hidden in his potato barn...

As good a read as all of the previous books of Vonnegut's that I've read, while it didn't quite scale the heights of some of his best, his middle efforts still reach much higher than most others.
Profile Image for britt_brooke.
1,288 reviews96 followers
February 2, 2018
“What will be found written after the name Rabo Karabekian in the Big Book on Judgment Day?

Soldier: Excellent.
Husband and Father: Floparroo.
Serious artist: Floparroo”

Loved this autobiography of the fictional painter Rabo Karabekian (who briefly appears in Breakfast of Champions and Deadeye Dick). In typical KV fashion, it touches on morality, war, and the human condition. And, of course, there’s that dark humor I so adore.
Profile Image for Guillermo  .
80 reviews80 followers
December 25, 2012
I was sad when it ended. I'll miss the wonderful characters Vonnegut
has created. But like all of Vonnegut's books, it's one I hope to revisit many times in the future.

Bluebeard is a fictional autobiography of a cranky old
Armenian modern painter living alone on a beachside estate. His life
is forever changed one day when he meets Circe Berman and is pressured
by her to write his autobiography – Bluebeard. We spend our time with
Rabo Karabekian divided between the present day, and the past. The
hilarity ensures. I read this mostly on a train to and from work, and
must have looked slightly ridiculous with all the times I shut the
book and just laughed.

This is a book that deals with the Armenian
genocide, a man that beats up his wife, suicide, being maimed in World
War II (our protagonist was not born a Cyclops, he tells us on page 1,
he was deprived of his eye while commanding a platoon of Army
Engineers), and about the desolation a man feels as he looks back at
all his failures in his life. All this, and the book was laugh out
loud funny, never felt too heavy, and concluded so triumphantly and
hopeful, that it got me slightly (very slightly!) teary eyed. Only

Vonnegut has a rare gift I don’t think I’ve ever come across. He just
makes writing look so damn easy. He writes as if he was speaking to a
small child, but it is never ever condescending. It just flows with
such ease, elegance, and efficiency.

The plot of the book isn’t really important. This is a prime example
of substance over form. I’ve read and reread many of Vonnegut’s books
and to this day, if you pinned me down and asked me to recall for you
the plot of Breakfast of Champions or of The Sirens of Titan, I would
fail miserably. You don’t read Vonnegut for plots, you read his work
because of that wonderful dark humor- that voice that cries out about
the absurdity of it all. That being said, I think this would be a
great first book for those not familiar with Vonnegut. It’s probably
the most straight forward Vonnegut novel that I’ve read so far; no
zany aliens or time travel.

The absurdity of war is a note that Vonnegut loves to play. Also, his
disdain for the male sex in general:
"After all that men have done to the women and children and every
other defenseless thing on this planet, it is time that not just every
painting, but every piece of music, every statue, every play, ever
poem and every book a man creates, should say only this: "We are much
too horrible for this nice place. We give up. We quit. The end!"

Being a modern painter, Karobekian recalls his years as a struggling
artist. Having been struggling musician myself, a lot of what Vonnegut
writes about rings a bell of truth for me.

"A moderately gifted person who would have been a community treasure a
thousand years ago has to give up, has to go into some other line of
work, since modern communications put him or her into daily
competition with the world's champions. The entire planet can get
along nicely now with maybe a dozen champion performers in each area
of human giftedness. A moderately gifted person has to keep his or her
gifts all bottled up until, in a manner of speaking, he or she gets
drunk at a wedding and tap dances on the coffee table like Fred
Astaire or Ginger Rogers. We have a name for him or her. We call him
or her an "exhibitionist."
How do we reward such an exhibitionist? We say to him or her next
morning. "Wow! Were you ever drunk last night!"

But for such a seemingly light and fun read, his message is
surprisingly deep. Not to simplify things, but war really is absurd,
and the media has done a disservice by glorifying it (although this is
a trend seen less and less with more “realistic” portrayals of war
such as Saving Private Ryan and Born on the Fourth of July). I’ll
conclude this with a final quote from Bluebeard's 245th page:

"All the returning veterans in the movies are our age or older," he
said. That was true. In the movies you seldom saw the babies who had
done most of the heavy fighting on the ground in the war.
"Yes- "I said, "and most of the actors in the movies never even went
to war. They came home to the wife and kids and swimming pool after
every grueling day in front of the cameras, after firing off blank
cartridges while men all around them were spitting catsup."
"That's what the young people will think our war was fifty years from
now," said Kitchen, "old men and blanks and catsup." So they would .
So they do.
"Because of the movies," he predicted, "nobody will believe that it
was babies who fought the war."
Profile Image for մարիօ.
65 reviews12 followers
February 5, 2017
Բարի, հավես նախշուն Կուրտ Վոնեգուտը հայ սոցիոպատ նկարչի մասին։ Վոնեգուտի մյուս գրքերից տարբերվող գիրք էր, բայց իր ոճի մեջ գրված, հետաքրքիր, յուրօրինակ կերպարներով։ Վոնեգուտը սահուն կերպով դառնում ա սիրածս գրողներից մեկը:
Profile Image for Мартин Касабов.
Author 2 books155 followers
October 9, 2022
Как да познаем коя картина е добра?

Тук сме да си помагаме да преодолеем това нещо, каквото и да е то.

Позабравеният роман „Синята брада“ на Кърт Вонегът излиза подходящо малко преди стогодишнината от рождението на индианаполския трафалмадорец, която честваме на 11 ноември тази година. От изд. „Кръг“ се погрижиха подобаващо знаковите му произведения да се появят с твърда корица и за пореден път да стигнат до ново поколение читатели.

Би било неточно сюжетът на „Синята брада“ да се определи като „базиран“ по едноименната френска приказка, тъй като единствено в няколко момента романът припознава тази връзка през думите на героите си. Преразказана от Шарл Перо и публикувана за първи път през 1697 г. историята се завърта около лукав благородник, който съблазнява млади момичета, жени се за тях, след което ги убива в подземието на замъка си. Ако не съществуваше вълшебен ключ, приказката щеше да е истинска история на ужасите.

В романа на Вонегът няма кърваво подземие, а обикновен хамбар, в който художникът Рабо Карабекян съхранява своята най-голяма тайна. Някои предполагат, че е крадено европейско изкуство от Втората световна война, други залагат на изключително платно от самия артист. Но да не изпреварваме действието, както би направил самия автор.

Карабекян е застаряващ художник, който твори в сферата на абстрактния експресионизъм и през опита да напише автобиография, разказва за несгодите в живота си. Родителите му се преживели арменския геноцид, в дома му живее апатичен ветеран, а наскоро появилата се вдовица Цирцея Бърман преобръща всичко с главата надолу.

През дружелюбния глас на Карабекян, Вонегът за пореден път ни отвежда на нехронологично пътешествие, което комбинира сатира на бохемския артистичен живот, както и коментар на динамиката творец-критик. В романа прозират умората и саморефлексията на самия Вонегът, който поставя под съмнение значимостта на собственото си творчество. В книгата е поместен и един от най-точните отговори на естетическия спор между субективното и обективното в изкуството. Как да познаем коя картина е по-добра от друга? Достатъчно е да видим един милион платна, след което няма да има нужда да питаме повече.

Катализаторът за автобиографията на Карабекян е провокативната вдовица Цирцея Бърман, чийто първи въпрос към художника е: „Как умряха родителите ти?“ Името Цирцея не е случайно и подходящо препраща към старогръцката нимфа, която превръща спътниците на Одисей в свине, като ги упоява с магическа отвара.

„Синята брада“ не е сред най-емблематичните романи на Вонегът, но въпреки това в него присъстват игривият постмодерен стил, неподражаемата ирония и усета към афоризми. Вонегът така и не се завръща към иновативната висота на по-ранните си романи „Котешка люлка“, „Сирените от Титан“ и „Кланица 5“, които завинаги променят облика на научната фантастика и на литературата въобще, така че приносът му с тези три книги през 60-те години е повече от достатъчен да влезе името му в канона на американски класици от отминалия век. Въпреки това романи като „Синята брада“ и „Галапагос“ остават задължителни за почитателите на хуманистична ирония на автора.

Човек никога не пише за целия свят, не пише нито за десет души, нито дори за двама. Той винаги пише за един-единствен човек.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
26 reviews
November 4, 2007
I was lured to this book by Breakfast of Champions, a Vonnegut book that I loved. But sadly I was disappointed. I wanted Vonnegut’s classic writing style; his unpredictable qualms, his interrogative view of the world and his illuminating illustrations. Instead, I received none of that. Bluebeard is unusual in comparison to his other books. Its critiques on the world and human life are blatant and deliberate, rather than his usual subtle remarks. The main character, Rabo Karabekian, is a widowed former painter who is writing as an autobiography. (Vonnegut goes so far to make the book Rabo’s, that he credits a fictional character in the dedication). Rabo is a sad character. He lives in a mansion that belonged to his deceased second wife, his only companions are the cook and her daughter (who don’t for the old man much) and crippled war veteran. Rabo himself is missing an eye. When a bossy, mysterious writer invites herself into his mansion, Rabo opens up about his life, his art and his sadness. For me, the story was slow moving, and plodding until the reader discovers the secret in the barn. This saved the book. While the Rabo’s memoirs are completely boring, the suspense Vonnegut builds for Rabo’s secret is well constructed. In all, it was a quick read but it didn’t satisfy its full potential.
Profile Image for Petra.
1,123 reviews12 followers
March 11, 2019
I enjoyed this story. Listening to elder folks tell their story & their perspectives can give insight to a time before mine.
Rabo Karabekian is writing is memoir and we, the readers, are in on the story. There's war, childhood, friendships, loss, gain...… there's Life in all it's turmoil.
Throughout Rabo is expressing his lament that his paintings, which he considers mediocre, are somewhat outside the realm of "great art". And yet he'd like them to withstand the test of time and remain....but they've been painted with an inferior paint that isn't standing up to time.
What is the purpose of art, of life, of himself? Within this story he ponders all this and more.
The secret of the Potato Barn?...… read this book to find out. It's fantastic.

Listened to this while jogging. Throughout this audiobook, this book reminded me of The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco. Both books brought the elderly protagonists to life as they told their life stories. Both were quietly told stories with lots of depth.
Profile Image for Michael Gardner.
Author 21 books70 followers
September 28, 2019
How would you describe Bluebeard? Well, it’s a story that imitates another story. It’s fiction imitating autobiography which ends up imitating a diary which also happens to imitate a French folktale.

You could say, it’s art imitating life, imitating life imitating art. Well, life imitating American postmodern art to be precise which, according to Rabo Karabekian, isn’t supposed to imitate anything. Imagine if they made a movie about this book. We’d have ourselves a party writing reviews.

I dunno, you figure it out.

Gee though, how much do I enjoy Vonnegut’s books? Probably about this much.

*Holds arms wide to imitate something large*
Profile Image for Dan.
995 reviews103 followers
July 6, 2022
The “Bluebeard” of the title is Rabo Karabekian, an abstract expressionist painter, who has also appeared in Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions. Karabekian is the narrator, and in addition to telling his own biography, he comments on modern art. I don’t like it as well as some of the other Vonnegut novels, but it’s worth reading for Vonnegut’s black humor and satiric social commentary.

Acquired Jul 26, 2002
City Lights Book Shop, London, Ontario
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