Kurt Vonnegut

Review: “Slaughterhouse Five, or, The Children’s Crusade” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

So it goes.

Long regarded as one of America’s great works, Slaughterhouse Five is a unique and provocative novel. The story begins with a narrator who shares common facts of Vonnegut so readers are to think that this book will be an account of Vonnegut’s life. The narrator tells us that he is in the process of writing a book about his experience of the infamous Dresden firebombing near the end of World War II. By the end of the first chapter, the narrator switches over and we are now reading about a man called Billy Pilgrim instead, who was also in the war and survived the Dresden bombing.

The story has one of the most amazing timelines I’ve ever read, and it is credit to Vonnegut that I was not lost once. The main story of Slaughterhouse Five is Billy Pilgrim’s ability to time travel. At moments of stress, Billy’s mind travels back and forth in time with no warning. He is also later kidnapped by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore and made to live in a zoo. The Tralfamodorians have a unique philosophy for their outlook life – everything happens because they simply happen. There is no reason. Vonnegut coins his famous saying, “so it goes”, which comes from the aliens in the text. They believe in eternity and pity humans who cry at death. Death does not exist to the aliens because it does not signify that somebody is gone forever. Rather, that person is only dead at that certain stage, that certain moment, that certain scene, and that they remain alive forever in other scenes. People can never die.

I have been reluctant to pick up this book because I’m not all interested in books about the war. I know I’m missing a whole genre and significant section in literature, where there are huge amounts of books that were published during the Cold War who criticize the recent WWII, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War. What surprised me about Slaughterhouse Five is not its pretext about war but rather its underlying philosophy. Nobody can ever really explain the atrocities of war, what the human race went through, the indescribable acts they committed, and why some survived and others didn’t. I suspect the reason behind Billy’s time travel is due to his post-traumatic stress. To escape the atrocities during the war, he shifts his mind, and to which he simply never recovered from.