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Slaughterhouse-Five: A Novel by Kurt…

Slaughterhouse-Five: A Novel (original 1969; edition 1999)

by Kurt Vonnegut

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32,20248623 (4.12)1 / 811
Title:Slaughterhouse-Five: A Novel
Authors:Kurt Vonnegut
Info:Dial Press Trade Paperback (1999), Edition: Reissue, Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Vonnegut, Classic, ebook

Work details

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)

  1. 342
    Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (kiwiflowa, Anonymous user)
  2. 210
    Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (seojen)
  3. 111
    Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (weener)
  4. 70
    Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (esswedl)
    esswedl: Both of these Vonnegut novels involve the question of free will (and both are great).
  5. 114
    The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (weener)
  6. 41
    Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo (waitingtoderail)
  7. 20
    Crash Gordon and the Mysteries of Kingsburg by Derek Swannson (jasbro)
  8. 31
    Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (JenMDB)
  9. 43
    The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (andomck)
    andomck: Both books, besides having science fiction/magical realism elements, discuss bloody episodes of WWII from the point of view of everyday people.
  10. 10
    Tertium Organum by P. D. Ouspensky (sombrio)
  11. 21
    Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (Ronoc)
  12. 21
    Kurt Vonnegut's crusade; or, How a postmodern harlequin preached a new kind of humanism by Todd F. Davis (pyrocow)
  13. 11
    Candide by Voltaire (SCPeterson)
    SCPeterson: Vonnegut is the Voltaire of our age of un-enlightenment.
  14. 00
    1968 by Joe Haldeman (snat)
  15. 11
    The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau (PghDragonMan)
    PghDragonMan: War is not glorious and even survivors are not unscathed.
  16. 13
    The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (chwiggy)
  17. 25
    Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman (ateolf)
1960s (35)
Read (36)
Read (7)
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Aliens (2)
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Showing 1-5 of 463 (next | show all)
Even though he uses the phrase "So it goes" with irritating frequency (over 100 times), author Kurt Vonnegut manages to keep Slaughterhouse-Five quite agreeable. This is no mean feat considering the book is rather experimental in style and structure, breaking the fourth wall and not following any linear plot structure. It is a collection of fragmentary episodes from the protagonist Billy Pilgrim's life told in non-chronological order; not only does it work but it is also rather clever in reinforcing the novel's central time-travel theme. You see, Billy Pilgrim is abducted by aliens who see in four dimensions: that is, they see all things past, present and future as happening at the same time, being experienced all at once. So no one ever really dies, for they are still alive at another point in time (weaving an absurdist element into the anti-war theme). Consider this passage from page 88, where the aliens describe to Billy how they communicate:

"There are no telegrams on Tralfamadore. But you're right: each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message – describing a situation, a scene. We Tralfamadorians read them all at once, not one after the other. There isn't any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvellous moments seen all at one time."

This meta-textual explanation is quite neat, and explains how and why Vonnegut wrote Slaughterhouse-Five in its peculiar style: to achieve this effect. It enhances the time-travel element and allows you to connect with the protagonist's mindset. Pretty damn clever, and potential readers should want to experience it.

But Slaughterhouse-Five also takes a stab at being an anti-war book, and the amiable, unassuming approach which works so well in other ways ends up faltering here. It is mostly of the simplistic, war-is-bad relativism of that counter-culture (the book was published in 1969), with soldiers compared to mindless robots and machines and so on. It does hit some home-runs on its anti-war message; for example, an artillery barrage at the Battle of the Bulge is described as "the incredible artificial weather that Earthlings sometimes create for other Earthlings when they don't want those other Earthlings to inhabit Earth any more" (pg. 106), and when the US Air Force describes details of the really rather public event of the raid on Dresden as 'top secret', Vonnegut exclaims "Secret? My God – from whom?" (pg. 11). But the parts are greater than the sum in this regard; it lacks bite and energy. You don't feel the indignation at war.

It does get the right balance in its black comedy: it is dark without being caustic, and absurd without being wacky. It is closer to Douglas Adams or Voltaire's Candide than your typical anti-war book. Rather, it is compromised by making the Dresden bombing its centrepiece. Fair play to Vonnegut for evoking the horror of the firestorm and of criticizing the absurdity of war but, to put it plainly, his Dresden facts are wrong.

He labels it the "greatest massacre in European history" (pg. 101) and "worse than Hiroshima" (pg. 10), which are both wrong even if we were to accept the inflated death toll numbers bandied around in the 1960s. It also claims Dresden was undefended and contained no war industries (pg. 146), another common myth. This silly myth of Dresden, the beautiful 'Florence on the Elbe' that the Nazis – you know, those peerlessly evil bastards of history – left as an 'open city' and did not (cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die) use for war industry or a source of manpower or as a communications hub despite it being the only large area in the country left untouched, only for it to be destroyed anyway by evil bloodthirsty British and American bombers, was perpetuated by David Irving in his book The Destruction of Dresden (cited by Vonnegut here on page 186). If the name sounds familiar, it might be because Irving is also a noted Holocaust denier and a "historian" clearly not adverse to massaging statistics or ignoring evidence in order to suit his agenda. His distorted view of the Dresden bombing became the accepted version for a time – no doubt exacerbated by Vonnegut's book – but unlike the Tralfamadorians we experience time in a linear fashion and the lies were gradually demolished by later, more sober professional historians. Indeed, modern scholarship now estimates the death toll at around 25 to 35,000 (still high, but far from Irving's ever-changing estimates of 100,000+). It has also been comprehensively proven (as if it were needed) that – surprise – the Nazis were indeed utilizing the city in the war effort and it was, by the standards of the time, a legitimate target. (Frederick Taylor's 2005 book Dresden is required reading on this topic.)

All of this is academic, I suppose – quite literally – but it does leave Vonnegut's opinions on the topic (beyond his own personal experiences – he was a PoW in Dresden at the time) looking rather out-dated and foolish. Perhaps the most amusing thing for me about the darkly comic Slaughterhouse-Five was an unintentional one. In chapter one, Vonnegut talks at length about how he'd wanted to write about the Dresden bombing for years. All those years wishing, planning, writing about Dresden… and he got it wrong. So it goes. ( )
1 vote MikeFutcher | Mar 24, 2017 |
Listened to the 2015 Audiobook edition narrated by actor/sometime author James Franco which was the Audible Daily Deal on Feb. 28, 2017, a bargain at $1.95.

Franco's narration was fairly deadpan but felt totally right for the book especially in the almost throwaway reading of the constant litany (116 repeats if wikipedia to be believed) of "So it goes."
Franco's image of oddball character performances (including his one-time hapless Oscar co-hosting) helped in my buying into his reading as well. I enjoyed the Kilgore Trout related passages the most esp. the perusing of Trout sci-fi novels in a Times Square dirty book shop.

An earlier 2003 audiobook by Ethan Hawke seems to be out of print but is still available on used CDs and tapes. It apparently includes an interview with Vonnegut and an excerpt of Vonnegut's own reading of the book. If Guillermo del Toro's planned remake of the 1972 film is ever made then I would certainly look for the lead actor in that to do a reading as well. ( )
  alanteder | Mar 11, 2017 |
What an interesting and fantastically written book. I'll read it again and I'm certain I'll catch all sorts of things I missed the first time. ( )
  amcheri | Mar 1, 2017 |
This anti-war novel haphazardly follows the life of Billy Pilgrim, who has "come loose" in time, never knowing which point of his life he will experience next. He escapes the bombing of Dresden during WWII, along with 99 other American POWs. He is abducted by aliens and mated with a beautiful woman. He becomes an optometrist. The book does not follow the usual build up, climax, resolution style of other novels. It has no true resolution. It just ends. The covet says it's funny, but I found nothing remotely humorous in it. ( )
  Coffeehag | Feb 28, 2017 |
Everyone dies. So it goes. ( )
  StefanieBrookTrout | Feb 4, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 463 (next | show all)
Franco's narration was fairly deadpan but felt totally right for the book especially in the almost throwaway reading of the constant litany (116 repeats if wikipedia to be believed) of "So it goes."
Franco's image of oddball character performances (including his one-time hapless Oscar co-hosting) helped in my buying into his reading as well. I enjoyed the Kilgore Trout related passages the most esp. the perusing of Trout sci-fi novels in a Times Square dirty book shop.
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 johnsmithsen | 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 (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Vonnegut, Kurtprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Владимир ФилиповTranslatormain authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brioschi, LuigiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chesterman, AdrianIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ferrer, JoseNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Franco, JamesNarratorsecondary authorsome 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
First words
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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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (4)

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.
Haiku summary

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)

(see all 6 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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