Kurt Vonnegut: Slaughterhouse-Five

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five: Or The Children's Crusade, A Duty Dance With Death (25th Anniversary) (New York: Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence, 1994)

After his recent death, Vonnegut's anti-war classic Slaughterhouse-Five deserves a re-reading; who am I to argue? Vonnegut's protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, was a WWII POW who survived the Dresden firebombing in an underground meatlocker, was an alien abductee, and became "unstuck in time." The narrative, appropriately enough, jumps forward and backward in time along with Pilgrim, although Vonnegut spends comparatively little time on the Dresden tragedy for which the book is so widely known.

Vonnegut writes in the preface that "I have no regrets about this book, which the owlish nitwit George Will said trivialized the Holocaust." (p. xii) I have been unable to locate Will's accusation, although it is obvious from reading Vonnegut's book that the subject of the Holocaust is addressed several times:

Only the candles and soap were of German origin. They had a ghostly, opalescent similarity. The British had no way of knowing it, but the candles and the soap were made from the fat of rendered Jews and Gypsies and fairies and communists, and other enemies of the State. (pp. 91-2)

I myself have seen the bodies of schoolgirls who were boiled alive in a water tower by my own countrymen, who were proud of fighting pure evil at the time. [...] And I have lit my way in a prison at night with candles from the fat of human beings who were butchered by the brothers and fathers of those schoolgirls who were boiled. (p. 110)

I don't see how either passage could be construed as a trivialization, but Will's misrepresentation comes as no surprise given his biases. I have little to say about Vonnegut's classic work other than to recommend it highly; it is the type of novel which may reveal itself to different readers in different ways.

Better readers than Mr Will can expect to experience a book of great worth.


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