Saturday, April 21, 2007


By Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut's 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 Billy simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Kurt Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.
It isn't a conventional, or simple, novel.Vonnegut 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 Karl 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 World War II 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.
On the surface, it's the story of a World War II veteran who survives the infamous firebombing of Dresden. But it is much more.Billy Pilgrim says he has become "unstuck in time". He lives his life both in random order and all at once; in a fourth dimension of time travel. This concept of the fourth dimension, he says, was explained to him by alien beings called Trafalmordians. Whether you regard Billy Pilgrim as just another psyche-damaged, delusional war veteran or take him at his word is not important. It is Kurt Vonnegut's underlying anti-war message that is important.
The book is primarily satire, screaming anti-war sentiments and protesting against the destructive consequences of war and its mentally damaging effects on the soldiers
The story is full of black humour as Kurt Vonnegut details the minutiae of Billy's seemingly normal post-war life as an optometrist and the horrors of his war experience. The juxtaposition of these two extremes as he jumps back and forth in time makes Vonnegut's anti-war message all the more effective.

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