Writer(s): Kurt Vonnegut.
Format: Mass Market Paperback.
Release Date: December 1991 (First Published 1969).
My Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆.
War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. With humankind’s tendency to repeat history, it is no surprise that war seems inevitable and indispensable to all generations. It is through war that many believe progress is attainable for all civilizations—while others are convinced that war is nothing but a reminder of our failures. In fact, parallelly, some believe that death is a necessity, whatever form it takes, thus bringing them to go on and live their lives to the fullest, while others see it as an end that strips away any need for joy or peace. But what is the best outlook on life and death that all should abide by? Leave it to Slaughterhouse-Five to expose it all in a strangely satiric fashion. Nominee for the best-novel Nebula and Hugo Awards, the New York Times bestseller written by Kurt Vonnegut offers readers around the world a compelling and surreal experience that showcases the absurdity of war.
What is Slaughterhouse-Five about? Based on the author’s real-life experience as a prisoner of war during the infamous Bombing of Dresden in World War II, this story follows Billy Pilgrim, an obnoxiously casual kid who becomes unstuck in time. Throughout this tale, readers are invited on a journey through time as Billy Pilgrim grows up to become an optometrist, a soldier, and a father, while also experiencing one of the oddest experiences of his life as he finds himself captured by aliens called Tralfamadorians. Involuntarily skipping through time, visiting various key moments of his life, Billy Pilgrim’s adventure is Kurt Vonnegut’s ultimate anti-war piece stuffed with black humour to convey his message as ironically as possible.
The story tackles a tragic yet significant subject by utilizing a unique style. Not only does Kurt Vonnegut resort to simple-structured sentences to tell his story in a very matter-of-fact fashion, but he also employs a messy non-linear narrative to recount Billy Pilgrim’s unfathomable life. This mosaic structure is at-most frustrating as the author’s intention of deconstructing life and taking away reason and logic to the overarching massacre that takes place sends the reader on a confusing escapade. This doesn’t get any better with the use of repetition as a technique for comic relief and desensitization. In fact, following any event that touches upon the subject of death in any way possible, the author ends the paragraph with “So it goes.”, which quickly becomes one of the most annoying sentences in the story with its over 100 lifeless and repeated uses.
Despite the flaws in the writing style that remained relatively unappealing, this classic tackles some thought-provoking subjects that undoubtedly brings me to give it a passing grade. One of its central messages is in a defeatist philosophy of learned-helplessness. Throughout the story, Billy Pilgrim grasps the Tralfamadorians’ way of life that allows them to have a positive outlook on life thanks to their conception of the fourth dimension. This approach is then observed through Billy Pilgrim’s behaviour and perception of countless events he encounters, including his own death. Through these lenses, the author tackles the idea of determinism when it comes to the evil humankind is capable of, like war, and the illusion of free will as humans continue to believe that they have a hand in what their faith is to be. Kurt Vonnegut thus explores these ideas through his story even if his story-telling method isn’t so accessible.
Slaughterhouse-Five is a classic non-linear anti-war time-traveling story denouncing the horrors thoroughly experienced by the author during the Bombing of Dresden in World War II.
A 1972 movie adaptation was attempted by director George Roy Hill. It went on to win the 1972 Cannes Fill Festival Prix du Jury, a Hugo Award and a Saturn Award.