Book #18-Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse Five is an interpretative account of the author’s own experience as a POW during the 1945 firebombings in Dresden.  That it took him over 20 years to produce the novel speaks to the effects the experience surely had on him.  Known as a pacifist, it has been said that Vonnegut had it published in 1969 in response to the US involvement in Viet Nam.

Vonnegut is a master at constructing what seems to be easily written and simple sentences, but are actually well thought out nuggets.  Add to that his wonderful humor and the result is an informative, extremely well written novel that leaves the reader chuckling throughout.

The book is so titled since the new POW’s are housed at an abandoned slaughterhouse since the German prisons are already overflowing.  Ironically, it serves to save their lives while Dresden and its citizens are destroyed.

Billy Pilgrim,the main character, is transported from studying optometry to Germany where he is a bewildered soldier taunted by his captors as well as his fellow soldiers.  Vonnegut uses an interesting technique that takes Billy back and forth in time as well as to the planet of Tralfamador.  While this could be the undoing of the novel, it actually works quite well.

Billy’s wife, Valencia, is as devoted to him as he is to she, yet is unaware of the traumas suffered in Dresden.  She loses her life after extreme efforts to get to a hospital to see a critically ill Billy, who is the lone survivor of a plane crash.

An unknown science fiction writer, Kilgore Trout, becomes Billy’s idol as his books seem to substantiate his time traveling abilities.

Vonnegut introduces a multitude of interesting characters; a sadistic American soldier, bubbly British POW’s and many more.

I’d love to be under the tutelage of Mr. Vonnegut and understand his painstaking processes that resulted in seemingly simple narratives.  Unfortunately, I missed him by just three years…so it goes.


But then Weary saw that he had an audience.  Five German soldiers and a police dog on a leash were looking down into the bed of the creek.  The soldiers’ blue eyes were filled with a bleary civilian curiosity as to why one American would try to murder another one so far from home, and why the victim should laugh.

A German measured Billy’s upper right arm with his thumb and forefinger, asked a companion what sort of an army would send a weakling like that to the front.  They looked at the other American bodies now, pointed out a lot more that were nearly as bad as Billy’s.

His stance was that of a punch-drunk fighter.  His head was down.  His fists were out front, waiting for information and battle plan.  Derby raised his head, called Campbell a snake.  He corrected that.  He said that snakes couldn’t help being snakes, and that Campbell, who could help  being what he was, was something much lower than a snake or a rat–or even a blood-filled tick.

Another Kilgore Trout book there in the window was about a man who built a time machine so he could go back and see Jesus.  It worked, and he saw Jesus when Jesus was only twelve years old.  Jesus was learning the carpentry trade from his father.  Two Roman soldiers came into the shop with a mechanical drawing on papyrus of a device they wanted built by sunrise the next morning.  It was a cross to be used in the execution of a rabble-rouser.  Jesus and his father built it.  They were to glad to have the work.  And the rabble-rouser was executed on it.  So it goes.

My rating for Slaughterhouse Five is a 9 out of 10.

To see the entire list,  visit Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels.

Please share your own reviews or  comments by using the link below.

Next up, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man



Filed under Slaughterhouse Five

5 responses to “Book #18-Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

  1. I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while, but was always thought I’d be turned off by the subject matter. Would you describe this books as “heavy”?

    • vsudia

      I don’t consider this heavy reading at all. Vonnegut had a knack for writing about heavy topics with a light hand so reading it was very enjoyable. His sense of humor adds to the readability. I actually picked up Vonnegut’s Armageddon in Retrospect over the weekend. Don’t hesitate, you’ll be glad you did!

  2. This is such a great novel. I love the fact that Vonnegut used time travel so effectively. It certainly added to the impact of the novel-the idea that we are constantly living in the past, present, and future.

    Great review!

  3. Darlyn

    I loved Slaughterhouse Five, particularly Kurt Vonnegut’s ability to add a touch of humor to even the darkest moments in his narrative. Great review. 🙂

    • vsudia

      He is such a great writer; I really enjoy anything written by him. I recently picked up Vonnegut’s Armageddon in Retrospect and am enjoying it when I have the time. Thanks for visiting and sharing your comments.

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