Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse-Five

Title: Slaughterhouse-Five
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Year: 1969

I think most people are at least familiar with the title of Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novel Slaughterhouse-Five, many people, including me before I read the book, knew little more than it was supposed to be an anti-war book focusing on the destruction the German city of Dresden during the second world war.

In part, this is indeed what Slaughterhouse-Five is about, it’s about the madness of war and about the meaningless killing of which the bombing of Dresden is such a prominent example (between 18 000 and 40 000 people died), it’s about Billy Pilgrim and his life prior to, during and after the war. So far, this doesn’t seem like much, does it? Thousands of novels have been written focusing on similar themes and with similar stories.

Yet Slaughterhouse-Five is truly unique. First and foremost, the narrative is shattered into many separate fragments, arranged in a far from chronological order, linked together by the main character’s ability to travel in time. Even though it might sound like it should rob the novel its seriousness, the inclusion of aliens does not in fact diminish it in the least. Using the aliens and the concept of time travel, Vonnegut also discusses existence of free will, since Billy’s life only seems to be re-experienced rather than being something new. The stage is already set, it has always been, and all he can do is randomly experience different parts of his life already lived.

Slaughterhouse-Five is anti-war in every aspect. I’ve tried to understand why I am moved by this novel when many others have left me untouched, but, alas, I still don’t know. Perhaps it’s the utter futility of war, perhaps it’s the chaotic style or the small details. Regardless of what it is, this novel succeeds in its ultimate purpose.

Still, there are aspects I don’t quite like. The time-travelling bits are perfect for this book, but the aliens simply fails to convince me that they deserve to be there, as does the frequently repeated phrase “so it goes” (which is what the aliens say when somebody dies; it’s supposed not to be lamenting, because since they see tho world in four dimensions, death is but one state of many).

Slaughterhouse-Five deserves its place as a classic among war novels (although combat is almost non-existent in the book). Since it’s well-written, short and not terribly complex, it’s a book I think most people should read, perhaps not because of the story in it, but because about the notions it conveys. As a book, it falls short of a recommendation, but four snails should still be taken a a sign of my liking.

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