Friday, April 17, 2009

Slaughterhouse 5

I've always wondered what the title of Kurt Vonnegut's anti-war novella referred to, now I know that it's the address of where American prisoners-of-war were kept in Dresden towards the end of WWII. The book is in fact about Vonnegut's experience of the bombing of Dresden, although it doesn't really come up that often.

Slaughterhouse 5 reminded me of Catch-22 by Joseph Heller to which it's been compared many times. When I read Catch-22 last year, I thought it could have been shorter. Vonnegut got the length right, I think. Anyway, the main similarity is of course the topic of the absurdity of war - the story is about Billy, who (yes) is present at the bombing of Dresden, but who also time-travels, gets kidnapped by aliens and displayed in a zoo and is an optometrist by trade. The whole thing is absurd, but with very engaging language making it exceptionally witty.

There are a few things in particular that stayed with me. This passage:
She upset Billy simply by being his mother. She made him feel embarassed and ungrateful and weak because she had gone to so much trouble to give him life, and to keep that life going, and Billy didn't really like life at all.
Also, I enjoyed the way that the aliens that kidnapped Billy looked at life and death. Basically, when you died it was only in that moment and since time was not consecutive but happened all at the same time, there were still millions of moments in which you were alive. I liked all the talk of a fourth dimension too - that's where the vampires live, for example. :-)

And - a saying that went around by email thousand of times that I really like seems to have originated in this book. Although it could be taken from somewhere too, I guess:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom always to tell the difference.

This is very pertinent to my current life situation so really struck a chord.

Definitely a book that deserves to be read. I wonder what else of Vonnegut's is interesting!

Challenges: A-Z Challenge, Numbers Challenge, 1% Well-read Challenge, 999 Challenge, Support your Local Library, War through the Generations

11 comments:

Nymeth said...

"I wonder what else of Vonnegut's is interesting!"

Everything!!

I love this book. I'm glad you enjoyed it too :)

Trish said...

I have this one on my shelf, but for some reason I've been a little intimidated by it (people keep tell me that I shouldn't be and I don't know why I am). Sounds great, though! I'll try and pick it up this summer.

Joy said...

Can't say I've read a Vonnegut - yet.

Glad to read that you really enjoyed it, Joanna!

joanna said...

Nymeth - right, I'll start on reading everything! :-)

Trish - they're right, you really shouldn't be. It's a lot easier to read than Catch-22 and goes really quickly. The absurdity is fun even though the main subject is serious.

Joy - I'd think that this would be a good first one!

Lezlie said...

And so it goes. . . :-) I agree with Nymeth. Everything I've read by Vonnegut I've at least liked and been entertained by. A couple of summers ago I bought something like his first dozen books and worked my way through everything up to Slaughterhouse Five. For some reason Mother Night is the one that always sticks in my head.

Lezlie

joanna said...

I remember you reading this one Lezlie... I'll try Mother Night, thanks. And everything else - what else can I do if both you AND Nymeth tell me everything is good? :-)

Bellezza said...

Those are two books I've always wanted to read and still haven't! I'm so embarrassed, not having any Heller or Vonnegut under my belt. I enjoyed your review, though, and feel inspired all the more.

joanna said...

Belezza - start with the Vonnegut, it's much shorter and lighter!

readerbean said...

Cat's Cradle was pretty interesting. It was a relatively quick read but it was also pretty bizarre (I think that's just his style!)

joanna said...

readerbean - some authors are just quirky like that aren't they? ;-)

Serena said...

you're review has been linked here: http://warthroughthegenerations.wordpress.com/2009/12/01/reviews-slaughterhouse-5-by-kurt-vonnegut/