Book review: Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse Five By Edvinas Matonis LEU Student

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Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse 5 Book review

Kurt Vonnegut the creator of the Slaughterhouse-five novel was an American writer. In his long career he published 14 novels, three short story collections, five plays and five works of non-fiction. He is most famous for his best-selling semi-autobiographical novel Slaughterhouse-five that I will be reviewing for you. To make things clear, this novel may be considered a semi-autobiographical, because narrator of the story is the author himself, as he shows narrators identity when he says: „That was I…That was me…That was the author of this book…“. So let’s get back to business and talk about the novel. First of all, Slaughterhouse-five is the story of Billy Pilgrim‘s life, that is framed in World War 2, to be more specific in the dreadful bombing of Dresden time frame. Billy Pilgrim is a slender looking guy that was born in Ilium, New York, that was drafted for military service in the World War 2. Well, the most interesting thing about Billy is that he is not interesting character at all. He is not a hero who saves his comrades in the heat of war. He is nothing like that in this story. Billy Pilgrim is rather a dull character who is pushed through out the life without making any decisions. After witnessing these horrors of war, Billy struggles to move past the self-destructive human nature and he starts to travel through the story by jumping into different parts of his life. From this point the story becomes quite strange and absurd. He starts to jump in time when he experiences memories associated with the war. Then, Billy becomes „unstuck in time” and „has no control over where he is going next“. Due to these time jumps, he witnessed how he became wealthy optometrist, how he got married, how his children were born, how he survived a plane crash. But the most absurd thing in this story is that he believes that he was abducted by aliens. He thinks that aliens abducted and took him to their home planet Tralfamador through some kind of a time warp/black hole. Then, Tralfamadorians placed him in a zoo as an exhibit for other extraterrestrial life forms. The aliens taught him about their concept of time and how everything, even every second of time exist at once. They also taught him that death is just an unpleasant moment. Due to Billy‘s ability to jump around in timeline, he already knew these lesions when he was in bombing of Dresden. Finally, at the end when Billy was assassinated he tried to show this message to the world. He knew that he is going to die, but he did not mind it. I think that Vonnegut created a perfect portrait of a young man with the help of Billy’s character. Billy, who was drafted, thrown into the heat of war, captured, starved, yet managed to survive the terrible bombing of Dresden, while being 18 years of age. Due to this, war traumatized him so much, that in order to deal with all these horrific memories he started to hallucinate and invented an alternate reality in which he is able to jump in time. Due to these time jumps, the whole book is written in small chunks of Billy‘s life from random points. In other words, the story is not told in a chronological order. Also this novel explores themes of war and how war can affect an individual, or innocent peoples in a really tragic way. Theme of death is also quite common in this novel. But not in a sense of mourning for the dead, or fear of dying, but as a certain part of a whole existence of a person, and that we need to celebrate it while we are still here. On top of that, K. Vonnegut‘s writing style also helps reader to imagine those horrific events quite vividly.

To sum up, I know this novel sounds complex due to absurd Billy Pilgrim‘s world and all those time jump shenanigans, but it is full of irony, sentimentality, black humor and absurdity. I would recommend it to people who tend to like various science-fiction stories and have quite dark sense of humor.

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