Sunday, October 25, 2009

So it goes....

Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five" is probably the best anti-war novel I ever read. Paradoxically, it is not openly or verbally pacifistic. Rather, by showing the absurdity of human condition in the war time, it builds in readers the strongest aversion to the war and to the artificial and often pompous "war heroism" - we so frequently witness in books and in media.

"Slaughterhouse Five" is a surrealistic novel, sometimes skimming on the brink of science-fiction genre. The title refers to the real building of the Dresden Slaughterhouse where American's POWs were kept in the very end of the war when the famous Dresden bombing happened.

It's subtitle, "The Children's Crusade" refers to the scene in the beginning of the book, where former II WW soldiers were called babies by the wife of war hero. In some sense the purpose of the subtitle is to despise the typical, pompous, heroic stories of the wars...

The most of the narration is filled by the story of Billy Pilgrim, an American soldier, who is sent by Germans to Dresden, just before the bombing. Billy experiences a mental state called "unstickness of the time" - he visits his past, present and future out of sequence, sometimes in backward direction and often, repetitively. During his time travels, he claims to be kidnapped by aliens and kept as hostage and zoo exhibit on a planet called Tralfamadore. These parts of the plot seem to be quite strange, but when you immerse into the text deeply, they play some increadible role - far from typical sci-fi motives in other novels.
In fact they have some philosophical implications. The questions of free will and of time and its meaning - are central to them. I like the concept of time and past looming from them - the past exists, is unchangable and can be visited in a way similar to that of our visits of places.

The bombing of Dresden is described with scarce details. Aftermath of the bombing, with infamous "corpse mine", where one of characters dies from vomiting (caused by the stench), is probably the only more detailed part of the novel.

The book is deeply related to the other Kurt's novels, "Mother Night" - the main character of the later plays an important episode in the former.

Travelling in space and time with Billy we are faced with almost absolute absurdity of the war, the cold cruelty of men in the wartime, without calling these features by name.

What makes this book special is peculiar climate it creates. In this very ambient, absurd atmosphere lies the strongest denial of wars and any warlike "culture".

Once again I proved myself how great writer was Kurt Vonnegunt...
Last but not least, I read the audio version of the book. The narration of famous Ethan Hawke was one of the best I ever experienced.



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