From the Publisher: 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. 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 unique poignancy-and humor.
He's in World War II in the snow, frightened and alone and behind enemy lines. He's a child in the chlorine stink of the pool at the YMCA. He's an ageing optometrist, staring out the window of his office at a suburban shopping mall carpark. He flails back and forth from birth to death, waking up in different stages of his life, and he has no idea why.
Vonnegut based this book on his own experiences as a prisoner of war in Germany. He was one of only a very small handful of people who survived the firebombing of Dresden, one of the greatest war crimes in history. While Billy may be exploring space and time, the book revolves around his days in the war - which, as with any veteran, are simultaneously the best and worst times of his life, the saddest and the most exciting, the most interesting and the most horrific. The rest of his life is one long, mundane slide into tedium.
This is an anti-war book. As Vonnegut points out, it's similar to an anti-glacier book. But it doesn't matter if it's utterly useless. It has to be written.
There is no glory or glamour in war, despite the fantasies of Billy's comrades. It is messy and brutal and violent and stupid. The Germans are not evil - they bid goodnight to their prisoners, hunt them down with a tracking dog named Princess, and are bemused by how vicious and cruel some of the Americans are to each other.
Vonnegut has a simple style of writing, but every word has a melancholy depth to it. It's a sadder book than the Sirens of Titan, but still filled with that fundamental moral statement on the human condition: not sad, not happy, not hopeful or pessimistic or disapproving, but just accepting. We are what we are, and we can't change it. So it goes.
Slaughterhouse-Five tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, a man who has become “unstuck in time.” In non-linear fashion, we are presented with the events of Billy’s life as he experiences them, most notably his service in World War II and the firebombing of Dresden.
As entertaining as Slaughterhouse-Five is, and as much as Vonnegut is a master of dark comedy, I was left with a sense of deep frustration, a desire for something more. Vonnegut’s points about the absurdity of war and the illusion of free well inspired little emotional or intellectual response in me.
Of course, I am unable to judge Slaughterhouse-Five as it would have appeared to a 1969 reader; through modern eyes, where the absurdity and inevitability of war have become constant themes, the anti-war aspects of this book—though eloquent—fell flat. Numerous variations on the solider-who-was-executed-for-stealing-a-teapot have appeared in books and movies worth less than Slaughterhouse-Five, but the pervasiveness of this image has deprived it of its beautiful insanity.
Admittedly, my disinterest in this theme is partially my own bias; I am more interested in the personal than the political. But even Slaughterhouse-Five’s reflections on the illusion of free will struck me as insignificant. Whether we are able to make free choices or simply have the illusion of making them, the effects are no less real. The potentially interesting question that the discussion of free will raises—namely, how can a person who lacks free will find meaning and a sense of identity?—was pushed to the background.
And so, while infinitely clever and entertaining, Slaughterhouse-Five disappointed me. I believe that a great book must be equal parts entertaining and enlightening, and—perhaps as a result of my own preferences and biases—I failed to find much enlightenment here. So it goes.
To me, Slaughterhouse-Five is an example of everything science fiction should be. It presents an original and absorbing premise. It challenges the way we think about life. It pushes the philosophical boundaries of what we consider possible. It asks questions with answers too complex to comprehend. Through its exploration of the strange and unknown, it holds the mirror up to humanity, and makes us notice the things we take for granted. And perhaps most importantly, it does it all with skill, wit and creativity. Its attitude seems to resemble Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, but with a little more meaning and a little less absurdity.
Although Slaughterhouse-Five may read with a veneer of light humour and contentment, however, the core message that Vonnegut presents is a bleak and passive one which I found quite unsatisfying. To his credit, he manages to portray it in a convincingly positive light, but when I stepped back and analysed it dispassionately, I began to dislike it for its fatalism. It might not alter the quality of the novel, but it may well compromise the enjoyment that some readers are able to extract from it.
Slaughterhouse-Five is the kind of novel that you can read in a few days, and then think about for a few months. Apart from younger readers, who may be put off by the sexual references, I would recommend this book to just about anyone. At only 157 pages, why not give it a go? The experience will be well worth your short while.
Vonnegut’s deceptively simple masterpiece is about life itself; it is about the futility and utter waste of warfare; it is about time, and the way that we perceive it; it is about fate and whether any of us really has any control over what happens to us next. Poor Billy Pilgrim certainly had little to say about the course of his own life. Swept up into World War II, where he is captured by the Germans almost as soon as he arrives, Billy will be held prisoner in Dresden’s Slaughterhouse-Five, from where he will survive the Allied firebombing that destroys the entire city. He will be abducted by a crew of aliens from the planet Tralfamador and displayed in a zoo there along with the former porn star chosen as his mate. He will become a successful optometrist, popular and respected in his community. The only problem is that it all happens at the same time.
Billy Pilgrim has become “unstuck in time” and he never knows, from one instant to the next, when he will flash forward or backward to a different part of his lifetime. It is all real, and it is always happening – all of it at the same time.
Slaughterhouse-Five is generally considered to be a classic anti-war novel. Even with that reputation, its message is subtle enough that it is possible to get so caught up in the rest of the story and its mechanics that the novel’s serious theme is only recognized some time after turning its final page. This book is funny, even to the point of being absurd, but it is a serious piece of writing by an author with something serious to say about the foolishness of killing “enemies” by the thousands/millions at the behest of politicians who have failed at their own jobs.
The effectiveness of Slaughterhouse-Five is compounded by the ease with which it can be read; Vonnegut has disguised a complex novel, one filled with thoughtful points, as some kind of comedic science fiction piece. And, he makes it all look so easy.
Rated at: 5.0
Nice concept - although, nothing I haven't seen before - but there were a lot of plot elements that just seemed spliced in and unnecessary. Like Montana Wildhack, Kilgore Trout, the whole Tralfamadore affair and the meta-story with the narrator and his old war buddy. If you remove all of that stuff, there's still a very interesting, viable, short story to be told about the horrors of war as seen by a time-travelling average joe.
Can I recommend this one? I'm not sure. It's extremely short, so why not?
This book starts out slow and then goes one million miles an hour. The protagonist of the book is named Billy Pilgrim. We are shown a quick overview of his life up until an interview he has on a radio station in 1968 about his abduction by aliens in 1967. This really threw me off when reading because I did not believe this to be part of this book. From what I had heard about this book I thought it was going for a less sporadic storyline however this kept the book fresh and interesting. I love the way the information was given in small little tidbits and you get to piece it all together like a puzzle. This could be confusing for some and in fact I reread more than a few parts to fully understand what was going on, however for me this did not take away from the story. The character development is interesting because you see Billy in different time periods of his life. I love how Kurt Vonnegut did this; he slowly showed us Billy’s traits in a very unique and interesting way.
Slaughter House Five is for people who like reading books that make you think. Kurt Vonnegut’s anti-war message is subtly woven into the novel and it appears throughout the story. I do not recommend this to those who like a more linear story line because this book focuses on skipping around to different time periods in his life making it hard to understand at times. Vonnegut did a wonderful of combining his ideas and then projecting them through the eyes of Billy Pilgrim which is something a great author and can do without making it seem obvious. Although I have never read any of his other books, if the others are as well constructed as this novel then they would be great reads. I can honestly say this is one of my favorite books, and this surprised me because usually I do not become enthralled with this style of book.
The protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, endures much in his life, from being a prisoner of war to being abducted by aliens, he experiences his life in a non-linear fashion, switching back and forth between the different events in his life, but always he's taken back to those dying days of the war. It's an unusual structure and one that works in a way a more straight forward accounting would not.
There's a lot to think about regarding this book, from the nature of war, to the nature of time to how Billy's personality and life experiences were shaped by the war. Also, Kurt Vonnegut makes a funny comment about Norman Mailer.
For the most part, I enjoyed reading this novel. I enjoyed its humor, its readability, the stances that it takes. It said to me, "Horrific acts, like war, are futile. They matter when you're there; but as a person in the future, you have to ultimately realize its pointlessness and laugh at it."
Some will dismiss it for its impracticality, because fiction exists on multiple levels. Others will have a hard time following the plot or Pilgrim through the time travelling. I say that Vonnegut does a wonderful job transitioning between moments; one just has to be willing to pay attention (since the transitions are pretty obvious) and understand that the novel is a trip, a ride.
Although I do find this novel fascinating, something prevented me from loving it. I really don't know what it is. It has a lot of qualities I find attractive in a person, but I felt that there's something lacking. Either way, this read was worthwhile.
Four-and-a-half poo-tee's out of five tweets.
I felt the first and last chapter were extremely useful in placing this book as a mixture of mad cap fiction and the authors own experience of war. The most moving moments of the story came when the auhtor broke from the narrative to inform the reader that 'I was there'. This really brought things home and helped me to realise the purpose of this book.
To me it seems to be both a book about the nature of warfare and it's combatants, and also a cathartic exercise for the author, a way to release his stories of WW2 via a vessel. The vessel being BIlly Pilgrim, the hero of this tale.
This book made me think a lot, which is something I appreciate when books make me do this. I think that the humour and the zany events of the book worked extremely well alongside the more sobering elements, and that altogether it was an excellent read. I really wasn't expecting it to move me and captivate me as much as it did.
“There was a big number over the door of the building. The number was five. Before the Americans could go inside, their only English-speaking guard told them to memorize their simple address, in case they got lost in the big city. There address was this: “Schlachthof-fünf.” Schlachtof meant slaughterhouse. Fünf was good old five.” (pg 194-195)
After the war, he studied optometry, married the daughter of a rich optometrist, whom with he had a daughter, Barbara, and a son, Robert, with, became rich himself, and, later, has a nervous breakdown. A plane crash that kills everyone except him and the co-pilot. Rushing to the hospital in frantic worry, his wife, Valencia, dies in a car accident. Some where along the way, he gets to meet his favorite author, an unsuccessful sci-fi writer named Kilgore Trout. He is abducted by aliens called Tralfamadorians, who put him in a zoo on their home planet, Tralfamadore, with a young porn actress, Montana Wildhack, whom they also abducted. The summary alone brings on a sense of randomness and the novel never loses this overall frustration.
The narration jumps around as frequently as Billy does and I found myself learning everything I needed to know early on and then simply revisiting it all as the book came to a close. Worse than watching television during commercial break, especially the Head On commercial , the fractured narrative gives you a headache. It’s extremely boring, hollow, and unsatisfying.
The broken structure and time traveling element must have been quite original back in 1969, when Vonnegut wrote Slaughterhouse-Five, but after reading The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, I can’t help but think that Slaughterhouse-Five left nothing to be desired or excited about. I’m not a huge science-fiction fan but I enjoyed Niffenegger’s portryal of time traveling more than that of Vonnegut. The novel is less about time travel than it really is about reliving the past, present and future of your life, all at once, because it’s Billy’s consciousness that does the traveling. What isn’t clear, at all, is which is the real Billy? Is the real Billy the one in the zoo on Tralfamadore? Or did Billy really die at Dresden? Or did Billy die as he said he “will die, have died, and always will die on February thirteenth, 1967”? (pg. 180)
The time traveling aspect predates the abduction by the Tralfamadorians but the aliens see into the past, present and future simultaneously, and teach Billy to“simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘So it goes.’”
According to Wikipedia, Vonnegut’s seemingly endless repetition of the phrase ‘so it goes.’ stands at a staggering 106 times. It felt more like it numbered in the thousands to me. About twenty pages into the book, I was so fed up with the words ’so it goes’ and the dismissal of important facts with this phrase, I felt like the only rightful place for this book was the fireplace.
By the way, I can’t help but wonder why Vonnegut’s editor didn’t do something about the monotonous quality of Vonnegut’s prose. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying all authors should cram as many words into a sentence as possible. Yet, Vonnegut’s prose is sparse and simplistic making it tedious and droning, to the point where frequently I wished for a few longer sentences here and there, or for an actual in-depth description of something that was happening. Anything at all would have been fine by me.
I hardly ever got one.
The only part I truly enjoyed was the part about Billy’s time in the zoo on Tralfamadore. And if you ask me, Vonnegut’s novel would have been a lot better if he had focused on that part of Billy’s life or even the one hundred American prisoners of war being welcomed by the British POWs in the German prison camp . I did, in fact, love the excerpts from the work on American soldiers and prisoners-of-war by the American-turned-Nazi, Howard W. Campbell Jr.
All in all, parts of the small, short book could easily have been skipped and you never would have known the difference. In short, Slaughterhouse-Five is impractical, incoherent, tries too hard, and, at the end of the day, utterly useless to my generation. Vonnegut bangs you on the head with his message. The experience doesn’t inspire me to read more of Vonnegut’s work, which means Breakfast of Champions and Cat’s Cradle will be going back to Barnes & Noble this afternoon.
I guess he’s a love or hate kind of story-teller
I read it a second time about 6 years ago, and while I did enjoy it more then, it's clear after my third reading that I enjoy it more and more every time. I've read probably around a dozen of Vonnegut's books by now and there is just something so unique about his writing. I don't know how to describe it, but I do know that if I picked up one of his books and started reading it, I would immediately know it was his. His voice is just that dynamic.
You all know that I adore Philip Roth and that I do believe him to be the best living American author. However, one complaint I've always had is that he doesn't do soundbites well. Meaning, there aren't sentences he's written that can be taken out of the context in which they're written and still be impactful. On the other hand, Vonnegut has a way of writing completely gut-punch sentences that just make you nod your head and wish you could drink some whiskey with the guy.
“I have this disease late at night sometimes, involving alcohol and the telephone.”
In summation, I love this book and look forward to taking even more from it the next time I read it.
to all those who have the courage to continuously "open the window and make love to the world."
Billy Pilgrim is revealed to us as a bumbling, ill-trained soldier that got his entire gun crew killed. So it goes. Along the way, his anything goes positive attitude keeps him going through the hard times and simply survive, even if it means wearing silver painted boots and azure Cinderella material as a cap to keep warm. The author, who was a POW in Dresden and witnessed the firebombing, also reveals himself to us via comments of “That was I. That was me. That was the author of this book.” – pooping his brains out...
I thought this book was less impactful than it could have been with aliens and time traveling, but I concluded it doesn’t matter. The facts speak for themselves where the author conveniently inserted statistics of the deaths of the Dresden Fire at 130K which is far greater than other better known bombings. The fact that the firebombing of a city not involved with war time industries remained unannounced to the public also adds gravity to war activities and death. So it goes. Despite his benefit of time traveling, knowing his future, being financially comfortable, and having sex with a hot young movie star (I’ll let you read that yourself), the impacts of war nonetheless are unpredictable and consuming. The non-affecting Billy, who didn’t cry during the war except for the sad condition of horses, finds himself weeping in the dark and needs a special bed to sleep. Will darkness ever leave us?
On Souvenirs – damn, do I do this??
“… She (Billy’s mom) did develop a terrific hankering for a crucifix, though. And she bought one from a Santa Fe gift shop during a trip the little family made out West during the Great Depression. Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a life that made sense from thing she found in gift shops”.
On Old Age – Billy’s mom:
“She swallowed hard, shed some tears. Then she gathered energy from all over her ruined body, even from her toes and fingertips. At last she had accumulated enough to whisper this complete sentence: ‘How did I get so old?’”
On War – this is kind of sickening for me:
“The Germans and the dog were engaged in a military operation which had an amusingly self-explanatory name, a human enterprise which is seldom described in detail, whose name alone, when reported as news or history, gives many war enthusiasts a sort of post-coital satisfaction. It is, in the imagination of combat’s fans, the divinely listless loveplay that follows the orgasm of victory. It is called ‘mopping up’.”
On War, in a hopeful view where the last sentence has a child-like quality to it:
With Billy unstuck in time, he is watching a movie backwards – “When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.”
On Religion – Slam! :
“The visitor from outer space made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to be cruel. He concluded that at least part of the trouble was slipshod storytelling in the New Testament. He supposed that the intent of the Gospels was to teach people, among other things, to be merciful, even the lowest of the low. But the Gospels actually taught this: Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn’t well connected. So it goes.”
On the Poor vs. the Rich:
“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.”
So, overall, Vonnegut has a few really fascinating, knock-you-over points that might come close to making this novel worth reading. However, the vast majority of the work is trite and overwrought.
That said, I am glad that I spent the time reading it; I consider it an important first introduction to the terrors of the Dresden Firebombing that should weigh more heavily on British minds than it seems to do.
This classic is part fact and part fiction, the factual portion taken from Vonnegut's own experiences as a prisoner of war in Dresden before and after its firebombing. And in its telling, one wonders if this is the only way Vonnegut could relay his experiences as a soldier and subsequent prisoner of war by implanting small bits and pieces among the other experiences of Billy Pilgram. After all, Vonnegut states at the beginning that he had been planning on writing about the war but could never actually get it finished.
This postmodern piece of metafiction is somewhat interesting, but I think the antiwar message is muddled with all the stuff about the Tralfamadorians. I found the 100 plus uses of “So it goes” somewhat annoying. As a rule, postmodern fiction does little for me -- along with postmodern poetry, art, and film.
I read Catch-22 back in the 70s and took its anti-war message seriously. Years later, I re-read it and better appreciated the humor Heller infused into his story. Perhaps the TV series M.A.S.H., with its thinly veiled criticism of the Viet Nam war, influenced my second reading of Heller and Vonnegut.
Lately, I have been reading some of Vonnegut’s non-fiction, and when a member of my book club proposed it, I thought it might be the perfect time to re-visit Slaughterhouse Five. I am not giving up entirely on Vonnegut, however, since I am going to read Cat’s Cradle soon. A trusted friend tells me it is his best. Three stars
But then I went to book club. Three others were with me and didn't really care for it or understand it. But two people loved it. Somehow that propelled me to start over and reread the book and then re-listen to it. Believe me, I never re-read books. I don't have time. But there was something elusive about this book ,and I wanted to try again. And the second time through (and maybe third time as I was also listening to bits and pieces in the car), I got the message and understood the humor.
So end of story. It was a great read if you spend the time to actually focus. And perhaps read it twice after having a better understanding of each of the various periods in Billy's life.
On that note, has anyone noticed how Kurt Vonnegut, above and beyond just about any other writer I can think of except maybe Stan Lee, engenders the purest and most worshipful man-love in just about every literate male I know? I'm not being sexist -- I mean, I love me some Vonnegut -- but there's something about his writing that speaks to the masculine condition (or anyway, mostly-white-male-masculine-condition) in a way that is both profound, touching, resonant, and real (i.e., un-sentimental, un-saccharine). And that is one of my favorite things about him: in a time where I'm watching any number of brothers and guy-friends and male-figures in my life deal with the shifting dynamic of the traditional heteronormative power structure, it makes me really happy to know that Vonnegut provides a touchstone for reality for them.