Have you read a book or a story written by Kurt Vonnegut? If you have not read anything that was written by Vonnegut then you’re missing out on a great deal. Vonnegut is one of the greatest American writers of all time. He is arguably the best American humorist since Mark Twain and that says a lot.
Vonnegut was born in Indiana and he served in the United States Army during World War Two. While fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, Vonnegut was captured by Germans. There was one experience during Vonnegut’s captivity that left a profound impression on him. Vonnegut, together with other American prisoners of war, was taken to the German city of Dresden to be used as slave labor. They were kept in an old slaughterhouse. The Germans called the building Slaughterhouse Five and Vonnegut and the other prisoners called it that too. It was at that time that the Allies started using a new weapon on German cities then including Dresden. It was called fire-bombing.
Allied warplanes would dump thousands upon thousands of incendiary bombs over a city which creates a huge wall of fire. The gigantic conflagration can suck up all of the air within the city and burn everything. That is what happened to the city of Dresden. Vonnegut and the other prisoners were locked up in the slaughterhouse which is why they escaped the fire. When they emerged from the building they saw that Dresden was completely destroyed. The whole city was like the moon, only there were still small fires burning. Burnt bodies were everywhere.
Vonnegut was eventually freed by the Russians which overran the German territory where they were being held. He eventually made it back to the United States and started a normal life but his experiences during the war remained with him, especially his experience in Dresden. He would mine those experiences for his writing later on.
Books by Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut died in 2007, but he was able to leave behind a body of work that is impressive in its size and quality. Some of his novels have become modern classics and a lot of people claim them to be their favourites. Vonnegut’s style of writing has been classified as science fiction and there are many elements of that genre that can be seen in his works, but his works are also heavy in humor, although his brand of humor is often dark. More importantly, his books are all reflections on human nature.
Here are some of the books of Kurt Vonnegut that you should read.
Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is
Vonnegut’s most famous work and is the one that is most identified with him. The book is semi-autobiographical since it uses the fire-bombing of Dresden as the main event in the story. The novel is about the time travelling of Billy Pilgrim, who like Vonnegut was captured by Germans during the Second World War. Billy’s adventure includes being abducted by aliens and surviving a plane crash. He goes back and forth through time reliving moments in random.
Though it was not instantly popular, Slaughterhouse-Five, became a cult classic upon its publication and it has since been ranked among the greatest English novels of all time. It remains to be the most popular work of Vonnegut and has been taken up as one of the most significant books against war. There are those who have derided it as mere science fiction, but many readers see it as one of the most important works in American fiction. It has also generated a lot of controversy since its publication with many claiming that it is obscene and irreverent.
The Sirens of Titan
The Sirens of Titan was first published in 1959. The book deals with freewill and human history. The book revolves around a Martian invasion of the Earth which is unlike any other extra-terrestrial invasion in science fiction. The main character of the book is Malachi Constant who is the richest as well as the luckiest man on Earth. He becomes involved in the Martian invasion which was engineered by Winston Niles Rumfoord.
According to some accounts, Vonnegut put together this novel in one night at a party. Someone told him that he should write a novel and he did just that. Critics say that this is the work where Vonnegut became the writer that he is now famous for. His first novel was clumsy and amateurish but The Sirens of Titan had all the right elements.
Cat’s Cradle is the fourth novel of Kurt Vonnegut and it was originally published back in 1963. The book explores many issues and those include technology, science and religion. The book was nominated in 1964 for the Hugo Award for the Best Novel. Vonnegut considers it to be one of his best works. In a list on which he grades his own novels, he gave Cat’s Cradle A+, which places it on the same level as Slaughterhouse-Five.
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater
God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater was published in 1965. The book is about Eliot Rosewater who is the heir to the immense Rosewater fortune. The story revolves around how a lawyer is trying to have Eliot declared insane so that a distant relative can become heir to the fortune. Throughout the book, it is recounted how “insane” Eliot really is. As with the other novels of Vonnegut, the science fiction writer Kilgore Trout makes an appearance in the book.
First published in 1952, Player Piano is Vonnegut’s first novel. It is a dystopian novel set in a world where life has been negatively affected by automation. In the world setting of the novel, mechanization has taken place at almost every level. This mechanization and replacement of manual labor creates a conflict between the upper classes that controls the machines and the lower classes that were replaced by the machines. The book was republished in 1954 under a different title in an attempt to make it more popular to the readers of science fiction. The hallmarks of Vonnegut’s writing can be found in the book, though critics agree that he has not reached his full maturity as a writer then. The book was well-regarded by critics but it did not gain Vonnegut the popular success which was to come years later.
Galápagos is Vonnegut’s eleventh novel. The book questions the need of the human brain which ironically is hailed as the biggest advantage of humans over other animals. It also plays around the idea of evolution. Narrated by the ghost of Leon Trout, son of Vonnegut’s recurring character Kilgore Trout, Galapagos tells the story of a few humans who are stranded on a small island and how their descendants become the only humans left on the planet. The idea behind the novel is that all of the sorrows and misfortune of humans are caused by their oversized brains.
These are the best books from Vonnegut that you should check out. He wrote 14 novels and there were short stories as well which have been compiled as collections. If you have not read about the crazy world as seen by Kurt Vonnegut then now is the perfect time to get started.