Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

This was a classic I bought a while ago from a recommendation from a few people. I knew nothing at all going into this, beyond it being dark satire. So reading this was an interesting experience. And it wasn’t what I expected at all.

“So it goes” is the mantra for this novel. Learned from the Tralfamadorians who see in 4 dimensions, so death isn’t a thing, you are never dead because in other moments you are alive. Yep, there are aliens in this, semi-biographical, meta-story about World War 2 and Benny Pilgrim.

Dresden after Allied Bombing taken by Abraham Pisarek Deutsche Fotothek‎ [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons
Dresden after Allied Bombing taken by Abraham Pisarek
Deutsche Fotothek‎ [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The bombing of Dresden in 1945 killed tens of thousands of people, and is somewhat contentious. At the time it was the largest unbombed city in Germany. It was attacked by the Allies, as it a number of factories, but others claim that they bombed indiscriminately and so if they wanted to stop the factories they should have been more targeted. Whether it was warranted or not, it caused mass devastation.

The book opens in a pretty odd way, it opens with the author of the book talking about writing the book. And then tells us how the story will start and end. Before we actually start ‘the story’ in the second chapter. And then the final chapter again reverts to this meta feeling. Plus, the author of the novel is a character in the story of Benny Pilgrim. But also the actual author was actually in Dresden during the bombing, which makes it semi-biographical. So it’s a pretty odd novel to begin with, just by trying to classify it.

But then we include time travel and aliens as well. Not what you might expect from a story concerning World War 2.

I really wasn’t sure what to think about the story, it was so unusual. So unexpected. And quite chaotic. So much so I’m writing such a sort review. Overall, I didn’t love it, it was interesting but not to my liking. I can see the significance of the novel and it’s message, but, I won’t rave about the book.

A few quotes I really liked:

As an Earthling I had to believe whatever clocks said – and calendars.

Its label boasted it contained no nourishment whatsoever.

Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the goods ones.

That’s the attractive thing about war, absolutely everybody gets a little something

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4 thoughts on “Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

  1. I think it will be interesting to read this book, considering how much I’ve heard it compared to The Book Thief.

    Cracked had this to say about Kurt Vonnegut, however:
    “Actually, Vonnegut’s hobo look was carefully calculated….

    For half of his life, Vonnegut was clean shaven, sophisticated and well fed. However, this was the ’60s, and Vonnegut knew he’d be eaten alive by counter-cultural literary circles he hoped to reach with his book if he looked like Darren from Bewitched. He obsessed over his author photo and ended up completely revamping his demeanor so he could look like a crazy writer: He lost weight, grew out his hair, neglected showers, and, of course, grew a mustache that would give Tom Selleck a run for his money.

    Vonnegut had worked as a PR man for years, so he knew exactly what he had to do to achieve his dream ‘to be a famous New York City writer.’ He was also so insecure about his education that he lied about academic honors he never got, and despite sounding off about Vietnam, had no problem with being an investor at Dow Chemical (makers of napalm).

    So to all those college kids who ‘love’ his work but have only seen 30 minutes of the Bruce Willis version of Breakfast of Champions, he’d probably say ‘Well done, you’re on your way to becoming a legendary author!'”

    http://www.cracked.com/article_20530_6-famous-authors-who-were-nothing-like-you-expect.html

  2. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Slaughterhouse Five and it has been on my TBR list for ages now. I have yet to pick it up because the theme and the odd plot is sort of intimidating. However, your review has persuaded me to finally read it and I will do so soon. Thanks for the great review, Daniel!

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