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Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-five (original 1969; edition 1994)

by Kurt Vonnegut

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29,82041030 (4.13)1 / 727
Authors:Kurt Vonnegut
Info:New York, N.Y.: Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1994.
Collections:Your library

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Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)

1960s (28)
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English (387)  Italian (5)  Spanish (3)  German (3)  French (3)  Swedish (2)  Dutch (2)  Czech (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (407)
Showing 1-5 of 387 (next | show all)
"One of the world's great antiwar books. An American classic. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden." ( )
  | Jun 29, 2015 | edit |
I had somewhat mixed feelings about this book. I may be living under a rock, but I started reading it with absolutely no idea what it was about. I’m sure I read the synopsis at some point, months or years ago when I first decided I wanted to read it, but I didn’t remember it by the time I actually read it.

The story-telling method is a little unique, and a little scattered. The bulk of the story tells us about a man, Billy Pilgrim, who was a chaplain’s assistant in World War II and was captured by the Germans. The time frame of the story takes place pretty much over the entire course of Billy’s life, primarily during and after the war, but it’s not told in sequential order. The premise is that Billy has become “unstuck” in time and he travels randomly to different points in his life, experiencing different events. As readers, we travel randomly with him.

In most cases, we’re told about events long before we actually travel to those times with Billy to experience them. This made the story seem a little too predictable at times. On the other hand, the unpredictable jumping around to different times in Billy’s life did help keep things more interesting. There’s some intentional repetition in the book of various phrases, most notably “so it goes”. I’m not normally a big fan of repetition but, in this case, it didn’t bother me. I thought it was a nice artistic choice that actually added a little more nuance and character to the story.

I really was not a fan of the main character, Billy. He was a determinist, believing that things will always happen a certain way and we have no control over it. Whether something good happens or something bad happens, that was what was always supposed to happen and there was no way to change it. So Billy, not surprisingly, pretty much just sat back and let life happen to him. He didn’t seem to have any real opinions about anything, he had no apparent motivation to improve his life or that of others, and he was a constant burden on other people who had to watch out for him because he wouldn’t watch out for himself. I wanted to reach into my Kindle and give him a good shake! At one point the book quotes the Serenity Prayer and then we’re told “Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future.”

It’s made pretty clear that this book is intended to be an anti-war book. I don’t disagree, but I don’t feel like it was an extraordinary anti-war book. I tend to feel like any book that touches on war could be considered an anti-war book if it presents the war in a remotely realistic manner. But, today, I think nearly anybody you speak with would tell you that they think war is bad, that it’s filled with agony and excessive atrocities, and that it would be better if we would all just live in peace. The point on which people are more likely to disagree is whether or not war is sometimes necessary in spite of its consequences, and they would disagree about what qualifies as “necessary”. The book really didn’t address anything along those lines. Of course, this was written in 1968, so my perceptions today are probably very different from those of readers when the book was first published.

Although this is a somewhat older book, it was very accessible. It was a short and easy read, and it held my attention easily. There were a few older terms that gave me pause (such as “rumpus room”), but they were usually easy to understand in context. Reading on a Kindle where you can easily do a Wiki lookup on things is definitely helpful, though. I had to do Wiki lookups on a couple historical figures that were mentioned.

There were some pretty funny lines in the book, and the whole thing was written with a sort of sardonic tone that I enjoyed. People who enjoy historical stories set around World War II but don’t like science fiction might enjoy this book pretty well. I’m actually not convinced that I just read a science fiction book, despite the fact that most people seem to categorize it that way. There was some ambiguity about what was really going on with the main character (time travel or mental illness), with evidence to support both viewpoints, and it was left up to the reader to decide. I personally found the mental illness theory more believable in the context of the story. ( )
  YouKneeK | Jun 25, 2015 |
Funny nihilist who gets under your skin and makes you think everything is absurd. Can give you a hollow laugh. ( )
  ted_newell | Jun 20, 2015 |
what does this book mean?! it has so many ardent fans but, even amongst top goodreads reviews when read carefully, you see that people are using "so it goes" in various contexts... ironically... earnestly.... both passionately and as a push-me-aside phrase... what does it mean!

so, i’m confused what this book is supposed to impart to me. there are different interpretations that you can abide by when analyzing this novel and i do NOT understand how one is so completely chosen over the other—although i’m not even sure which is—but it doesn’t seem like there’s a raging debate about what this book means. people just quote it excessively and “fall in love with it” but who could really tell me what it means? here’s my thoughts.

1.the phrase “so it goes” (which is repeated after anyone dies—i think it’s used 100 or so times in the novel) is used to the point of excessiveness and bluntness in order to anger the reader; to have such a small and push-me-aside phrase used to describe the brutality of war is certainly angering in its own right. vonnegut could be using the phrase “so it goes” as irony, perhaps: as though to say, this is NOT natural and should not be happening, but it is happening and let’s just hypothetically say “so it goes” and shush it all aside and condone it is NOT OKAY. this, then, would lead to the book being anti-war.

2.the phrase “so it goes” is used not ironically but with all earnestness; this would mean that vonnegut is showing the passivity of human beings. as in, war is a bad thing but what can you do about it? keep on living and doing your best and moving through life. this viewpoint gains some respect from two of vonnegut’s famous passages in the novel (the first: when a character asks why not write an anti-glacier book instead of an anti-war book; the second: when billy and the harvard professor in the hospital agree with each other, albeit with much sincere discussion, about war being inevitable). this, then, would be vonnegut SINCERELY using “so it goes” and condoning war and all of its atrocities, and saying to keep on going in life. this also coincides with his common usage of the serenity prayer (“god grant me the serenity to accept the things i cannot change”) throughout the novel.

3.or, a third possible message from vonnegut, would be to take message #2 and say that vonnegut expressed #2 in such EXTREME measures, that he espoused such total and absolute determinism and passivity and devoidness of free will, that he’s mocking those who do firmly believe in thos concepts. is vonnegut mocking determinists, the tralfamadorians? or does he genuinely believe in message #2, of passivity and acceptance of all that comes your way, the utter and total “SO IT GOES”. i cannot believe that option #3 is viable because vonnegut is KNOWN for the phrase “so it goes” and #3 means that he’s using it ironically to a measure, as well.

so, which of the three? these are three totally different explanations for the novel and unless you can firmly pick one OR create your own explanation that establishes a clear picture of what vonnegut was aiming to say, i don’t with any of my heart believe how you can love, or even understand, or even like, this novel. which goes to say that of COURSE there are hordes of bloggers quoting the oft-quoted passages in the novel and professing their sincere love for vonnegut, but how many of them could really tell me what it means?!

as an aside, a few themes that he touched upon, which still make sense regardless of which of #1-3 vonnegut was espousing, were well done. one of those was the time-traveling, which i believe served as a measure to help us illuminate the fact that these fractured moments that make up our entire life are always with us, coming back to us, making us who we are. another theme along the same vein of time was that even once we are dead, we are still living (in a sense) with those whose hearts we are in and have affected. a final theme that i garnered was the idea of “everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt” which i’m SURE everybody and their blind dog has seen on tumblr at one or forty points or another. this also ties back to billy pilgrim and his “just leave me here” walking with the three musketeers. billy often has an attitude towards life of giving up, letting it happen to him, and his life wash all over him. it seems to me that his happiest moments (besides sunbathing in dresden after the fire-bombing) were because he felt nothing.

what a terrible way to live. to have the beautifulness just be absence of pain.
( )
  Proustitutes | Jun 11, 2015 |
Kindred's Reading Challenge: #23 A novel by Kurt Vonnegut
  LaMala | Jun 7, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 387 (next | show all)
It is a novel about war and what men do to each other in the name of holy causes.

Which is not to say it is anywhere near "The Naked and the Dead" or "From Here to Eternity." Vonnegut fights his wars with feathers rather than with jackhammers. "Slaughterhouse-Five" is funny, satirical, compelling, outrageous, fanciful, mordant, fecund and at the bottom-line, simply stoned-out-of-its-mind.
added by Shortride | editLos Angeles Times, Harlan Ellison (pay site) (Apr 20, 1969)
An agonizing, funny, profoundly rueful attempt by Vonnegut to handle in fable form his own memories of the strategically unnecessary Allied air raid on Dresden... few modern writers have borne witness against inhumanity with more humanity or humor.
added by jjlong | editTime (Apr 11, 1969)
"Slaughterhouse-Five" is an extraordinary success. It is a book we need to read, and to reread. It has the same virtues as Vonnegut's best previous work. It is funny, compassionate and wise. The humor in Vonnegut's fiction is what enables us to contemplate the horror that he finds in contemporary existence. It does not disguise the awful things perceived; it merely strengthens and comforts us to the point where such perception is bearable.
It sounds crazy. It sounds like a fantastic last-ditch effort to make sense of a lunatic universe. But there is so much more to this book. It is very tough and very funny; it is sad and delightful; and it works. But is also very Vonnegut, which mean you'll either love it, or push it back in the science-fiction corner.

» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vonnegut, Kurtprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Hoog, ElseTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jaskari, JuhaniTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The cattle are lowing,
The Baby awakes.
But the little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes.
For Mary O'Hare and Gerhard Müller
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All this happened, more or less.
"Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from things she found in gift shops."
"There was a a soft drink bottle on the windowsill. Its label boasted that it contained no nourishment whatsoever."
I have told my sons that they are not under any circumstances to take part in massacres, and that the news of massacres of enemies is not to fill them with satisfaction or glee.
So it goes.

Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.
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Book description
[R.L. 6.0]
From the World War Two firebombing of Dresden to the distant planet called Tralfamadore, the reader follows Billy Pilgrim in his attempt to understand the natures of time and existence.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385333846, Paperback)

Kurt Vonnegut's absurdist 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 Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.

Don't let the ease of reading fool you--Vonnegut's isn't a conventional, or simple, novel. He 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 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 Second World War 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:01 -0400)

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Billy Pilgrim returns home from the Second World War only to be kidnapped by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, who teach him that time is an eternal present.

(summary from another edition)

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