Title: Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death.
Author: Kurt Vonnegut.
Genre: Fiction, literature, WWII lit, science fiction, fantasy, alien fiction, mental health.
Publication Date: 1969.
Summary: One of the world’s great antiwar books, the book centers on the infamous firebombing of Dresden and Billy Pilgrim, who time-travels constantly and randomly through the different events of his life. Billy's odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.
My rating: 8/10.
My Review: This book is kind of like a punch in the gut. It hurts, but it renders you speechless, makes it tough to breathe. It's not the kind of pain that evokes tears, either. I find Life's review incredibly on point when it says "...a funny book at which you are not permitted to laugh, a sad book without tears." With the most difficult, painful subjects, it takes simplicity to convey the true horror of living through them. Vonnegut's short, matter-of-fact, simple account of the horrors of war is much more soul-chilling than a narrative full of epic descriptions and emotional approach could ever be.
♥ So it goes.
♥ I think of how useless the Dresden part of my memory has been, and yet how tempting Dresden has been to write about, and I am reminded of the famous limerick:
There was a young man from Stamboul,
Who soliloquized thus to his tool:
"You took all my wealth
And you ruined my health,
And now you won't pee, you old fool."
♥ "You know what I say to people when I hear they're writing anti-war books?"
"No. What do you say, Harrison Starr?"
"I say, 'Why don't you write an anti-glacier book instead?"
What he meant, of course, was that there would always be wars, that they were as easy to stop as glaciers. I believe that, too.
And even if wars didn't keep coming like glaciers, there would still be plain old death.
♥ I was a student in the Department of Anthropology. At that time, they were teaching that there was absolutely no difference between anybody. They may be teaching that still.
Another thing they taught was that nobody was ridiculous or bad or disgusting. Shortly before my father died, he said to me, "You know - you never wrote a story with a villain in it."
I told him that was one of the things I learned in college after the war.
♥ Then she turned to me, let me see how angry she was, and that the anger was for me. She had been talking to herself, so what she said was a fragment of a much larger conversation. "You were just babies then!" she said.
"What?" I said.
"You were just babies in the war - like the ones upstairs!"
I nodded that this was true. We had been foolish virgins in the war, right at the end of childhood.
"But you're not going to write it that way, are you." This wasn't a question. It was an accusation.
"I-I don't know," I said.
"Well, I know," she said. "You'll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you'll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we'll have a lot more of them. And they'll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs."
..."I tell you what," I said, "I'll call it 'The Children's Crusade.'"
She was my friend after that.
♥ And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.
♥ And I say to Sam now: "Sam - here's the book."
It's so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds.
And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like "Poo-tee-weet?
♥ And Lot's wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human.
So she was turned to a pillar of salt. So it goes.
♥ "The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.
"When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is 'So it goes.'"
♥ "How come they call you Billy instead of William?"
"Business reasons," said Billy. That was true. His father-in-law, who owned the Ilium School of Optometry, who had set Billy up in practice, was a genius in his field. He told Billy to encourage people to call him Billy - because it would stick in their memories. It would also make him seem slightly magical, since there weren't any other grown Billys around. It also compelled people to think of him as a friend right away.
♥ Billy Pilgrim was having a delightful hallucination. He was wearing dry, warm, white sweatsocks, and he was skating on a ballroom floor. Thousands cheered. This wasn't time-travel. It had never happened, never would happen. It was the craziness of a dying young man with his shoes full of snow.
♥ Even though Billy's train wasn't moving, its box-cars were kept locked tight. Nobody was to get off until the final destination. To the guards who walked up and down outside, each car became a single organism which ate and drank and excreted through its ventilators. It talked or sometimes yelled through its ventilators, too. In went water and loaves of black-bread and sausage and cheese, and out came shit and piss and language.
Human beings in there were excreting into steel helmets which were passed to the people at the ventilators, who dumped them. Billy was a dumper. The human beings also passed canteens, which guards would fill with water. When food came in, the human beings were quiet and trusting and beautiful. They shared.
♥ Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this:
...When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into materials. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.
The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby, Billy Pilgrim supposed. That wasn't in the movie. Billy was extrapolating. Everybody turned into a baby, and all humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed.
♥ "Welcome aboard, Mr. Pilgrim," said the loud-speaker. "Any questions?"
Billy licked his lips, thought a while, inquired at last: "Why me?"
"That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?"
"Yes." Billy, in fact, had a paperweight in his office which was a blob of polished amber with three lady-bugs embedded in it.
"Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why."
♥ "But you're right: each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message - describing a situation, a scene. We Tralfamadorians read them all at once, not one after the other. There isn't any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time."
♥ He said that everything there was to know about life was in The Brothers Karamazov, by Feodor Dostoevsky. "But that isn't enough any more," said Rosewater.
♥ "Billy's father is dead, you know," said Billy's mother. So it goes.
"A boy needs a father."
And on and on it went - that duet between the dumb, praying lady and the big, hollow man who was so full of loving echoes.
♥ Billy closed that one eye, saw in his memory of the future poor old Edgar Derby in front of a firing squad in the ruins of Dresden. There were only four men in that squad. Billy had heard that one man in each firing squad was customarily given a rifle loaded with blank cartridges. Billy didn't think there would be a blank cartridge issued in a squad that small, in a war that old.
♥ It was about a visitor from outer space, shaped very much like a Tralfamadorian, by the way. The visitor from outer space made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to be cruel. He concluded that at least part of the trouble was slipshod storytelling in the New Testament. He supposed that the intent of the Gospels was to teach people, among other things, to be merciful, even to the lowest of the low.
But the Gospels actually taught this:
Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn't well connected. So it goes.
The flaw in Christ stories, said the visitor from outer space, was that Christ, who didn't look like much, was actually the Son of the Most Powerful Being in the Universe. Readers understood that, so, when they came to the crucifixion, they naturally thought, and Rosewater read out loud again:
Oh boy - they sure picked the wrong guy to lynch that time!
And the thought had a brother: There are right people to lynch." Who? People not well connected. So it goes.
♥ Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue, the monograph went on. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say, Napoleonic times.
♥ "Aren't you cold?"
"I hadn't noticed."
"Oh my God, you are a child. If we leave you alone here, you'll freeze to death, you'll starve to death." And so on. It was very exciting for her, taking his dignity away in the name of love.
♥ There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters.
♥ Trout, incidentally, had written a book about a money tree. It had twenty-dollar bills for leaves. Its flowers were government bonds. Its fruit was diamonds. It attracted human beings who killed each other around the roots and made very good fertilizer.
So it goes.
♥ It was dropped on them from airplanes. Robots did the dropping. They had no conscience, and no circuits which would allow them to imagine what was happening to the people on the ground.
Trout's leading robot looked like a human being, and could talk and dance and so on, and go out with girls. And nobody held it against him that he dropped jellied gasoline on people. But they found his halitosis unforgivable. But then he cleared that up, and he was welcomed to the human race.
♥ She was a dull person, but a sensational invitation to make babies. Men looked at her and wanted to fill her up with babies right away.
♥ Echolalia is a mental disease which makes people immediately repeat things that well people around them say. But Billy didn't really have it. Rumfoord simply insisted, for his own comfort, that Billy had it. Rumfoord was thinking in a military manner: that an inconvenient person, one whose death he wished for very much, for practical reasons, was suffering from a repulsive disease.
♥ But it was too early in the evening for programs that allowed people with peculiar opinions to speak out. It was only a little after eight o'clock, so all the shows were about silliness or murder. So it goes.
...The news of the day, meanwhile, was being written in a ribbon of lights on a building to Billy's backs. The window reflected the news. It was about power and sports and anger and death. So it goes.