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Slaughterhouse-five by Kurt Vonnegut
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Slaughterhouse-five (original 1969; edition 1994)

by Kurt Vonnegut

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28,61637232 (4.14)1 / 659
Member:clsnyder
Title:Slaughterhouse-five
Authors:Kurt Vonnegut
Info:New York, N.Y.: Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1994.
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Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)

1960s (12)
Unread books (1,005)
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English (352)  Italian (5)  Spanish (3)  French (3)  Swedish (2)  German (2)  Dutch (2)  Czech (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (371)
Showing 1-5 of 352 (next | show all)
Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: 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 is not only Vonnegut's most powerful book, it is also 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.

My Review: The Doubleday UK meme, a book a day for July 2014, is the goad I'm using to get through my snit-based unwritten reviews. Today's prompt is to select your very favorite American novel in honor of the Fourth of July. Well! That would take a few zillion hours of internal debate, creation of endless lists, rebellious actions like breaking things down into genre lists, muttering over who counts as American (Teju Cole is, but Henry James isn't: Discuss), etc. etc.

Decision made for me, in this case, by the fact that I'm trying to strong-arm myself into making a dent in the embarrassingly long list of things I've read, re-read, or abandoned since I got all grumpus. And here we are!

If anyone has not read this book, and is under the age of 90 while over the age of 17/senior year of high school, go immediately forth, procure this book, and read it.

Why? Beacuse:
“America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, 'It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.' It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: 'if you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?' There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand – glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.

Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say Napoleonic times. Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves.”
That is all.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. ( )
3 vote richardderus | Jul 4, 2014 |
This is not my type of book. It involves a man who served in World War II who becomes mentally deranged and time travels. My main motivation to read this came through the American author challenge. I had never read the book before, suspecting correctly that I would not enjoy it. I can, however, now say that I have read a novel by Vonnegut, and at just over 200 pages, the torture didn't last as long as it would have with some others. I did recognize the fact that it was well-written and appreciated literary references in the text. I even enjoyed some of the historical aspects. However, I (and probably many other readers as well) was put off by the irreverence of scenes going back to Jesus Christ in the time-travel portion. It is not a book I would recommend to anyone although I'm certain there are those who would enjoy it. In short, I was not a good match for this book. ( )
1 vote thornton37814 | Jun 27, 2014 |
Original post at Book Rhapsody.

***

So it goes and so on

Listen! This is the story of Billy Pilgrim, a war veteran who survives the bombing of a German town and who is able to live a comfortable life after it. How did he do it? He hid at the storage room of a slaughterhouse where he was taken as a war prisoner when the sky hailed bombs and set the city ablaze.

No heroic act involved, yes, but he manages to be quite successful. He gets married, has two kids, and becomes a leading optometrist. Things are pretty normal until he tells us a secret: he knows it all. He perfectly knows what happened and what will happen thanks to an alien who kidnapped him one night.

So this would sound like some science fiction, but at least this one offers some philosophical thoughts without leaving you up in the air with arguments that do not follow one another. I don’t think the book directly asks questions; rather, it makes the reader ask questions, particularly about time as an eternally dissolving progression versus time as a measured vista of recurring events.

"It would take another Earthling to explain it to you. Earthlings are the great explainers, explaining why this event is structured as it is, telling how other events may be achieved or avoided. I am a Tralfamadorian, seeing all time as you might see a stretch of the Rocky Mountains. All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I've said before, bugs in amber."

That is spoken by an alien, apparently, who has seen the entirety of his life, from birth to death, and who has the ability to travel back and forth through time and revisit the best moments of his life, not once or twice but as often as he likes. Billy, upon hearing this, questions the alien’s stand on freewill, which is sneered upon for the alien has never heard any talk of freewill except from us Earthlings.

What then is freewill? Does this exist or is it just a form of human folly? If we agree that all time is time, a flat stretch that runs from Point A to Point B, then freewill cannot exist. It is the antithesis of a fatalist perception in life. If one is powerless to control the path that his life would take, why bother on freewill?

On the other hand, is it better to live your life as you want it, not knowing where it will go, savoring fleeting moments of happiness, and enduring considerable lengths of suffering and pain? Can freewill outweigh the possibility of knowing what lies ahead and being able to relive what happened? Sure enough, turning either the past or the future into a successive sense of present might have its thrills, but I find it a little disconcerting. It would make me feel like a restless traveler constantly going to and fro someplace and never settling down for a home.

Going back to the alien encounter, it can also be argued that Billy went baloney. Witnessing the ugly world war with its innumerable deaths assailing him every waking day could have sedated his postwar daily life, making him yearn for an alternate reality. I think constant exposure to violence corrupts the mind.

Which makes me wonder: if we really have freewill and if we really have this knowledge that violence is not fit for humanity, then why do we seem incapable of repelling it? Why do we feel so powerless, like there’s an unknown force controlling us? Why do we seem drawn to violent acts, however big or small? Doesn’t this inability to eradicate violence a proof that freewill is just that, a fancy thought that elevates us from irrational beings?

Which baffles me further: what is so rational about freewill? Does it even follow that freewill is a gift bestowed upon rational beings? I know I am treading on waters that I cannot swim out of, and this will involve a lot of debating and even research on a number of disciplines, particularly philosophy, psychology, sociology, and theology. Heck, I am not even from any of those fields.

I am from a technological field, but I suck at it. I do not even have the inclination to keep myself abreast of what’s new and what’s not. But these are passing pleasures, things that can be Googled in a matter of minutes.

And the question of freewill? It will always be there, forever posed, discreetly, just right outside our reach, arching its curve as if to complete a circle and pointing its dot in a response that vanishes as instantly as the question mark is formed.

Redrawing the question mark will only allow whatever forces are out there to wag their fingers in front of our dumb faces. And the question will go on and on, unanswerable in our human capacity and probably better left in the hands of the unknown. ( )
  angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
I'm also a bit sceptical when people talk about classic novels and "you must read before you die" etc.
Quite often these books are simply over-hyped beyond their place.

This is NOT the case with Slaughterhouse 5.

It wont be for everyone, the jumping narrative and literary style isn't immediately accessible. However I was engrossed and at the books conclusion felt that my life was very much richer for the experience.

Tweet Tweet ( )
  johnny_merc | Jun 3, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 352 (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 (22 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.
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For Mary O'Hare and Gerhard Müller
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All this happened, more or less.
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"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.
Listen:

Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:19 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

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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