Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Slaughterhouse Five

I read a book called Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. It's set during World War II and the main character is a guy called Billy Pilgrim. He isn't a very good soldier, he doesn't even have a gun for some reason, he is very awkward and stumbles through the war in a kind of daze. He gets shoved around from unit to unit because he is a poor soldier, and then he gets put with a unit where one of them, a real psycho, bullies him and pushes him around, but then that guy gets shot, and then Billy gets captured by the Germans and put on a freight train with a lot of other prisoners of war. They go off to a prison camp. War is horrifying but the book doesn't depict much horror, it does it in very subtle ways though, I guess - something horrifying every fifty pages or so. But what happens is that it is revealed that Billy was abducted by aliens who told him that there is no past or present or future, that it is all visible at the same time. Billy then travels around to various scenes in his life. There is much made of the impending bombing of Dresden, and the statement that it was much more horrifying than the bombing of Hiroshima. Vonnegut should know because he was actually there. Anyway, the book doesn't really say anything about the bombing of Dresden after all - if I want to know about the bombing of Dresden, I will have to look elsewhere. There was one excellent passage in the book that depicted a bombing in reverse - the fires going out and the shells being sucked back in to the big artillery guns, and the planes sucking up the bombs and putting them back into the planes and flying them back to the base, where the bombs were sent back to the factory and taken apart and the chemicals and minerals removed and put back into the ground. That part was brilliantly done. But something not so brilliant was that every time somebody was said to have died, Vonnegut put the words "And so it goes." Bah! I got sick of that pretty soon, let me tell you. Apparently that's what the aliens who abducted Billy would say whenever they mentioned the death of somebody, but who cares, it was very annoying and went right through the book from beginning to end, and you know that many people die in a war, so this happened a lot. It was a drag and it spoiled the book, if you ask me.
But that passage with the bombing in reverse was excellent, and it was worth reading just for that.

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