40. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969) 215 p.

i can't think of a caption for this bloody boring cover

Listen: Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time.

He’s in World War II in the snow, frightened and alone and behind enemy lines. He’s a child in the chlorine stink of the pool at the YMCA. He’s an ageing optometrist, staring out the window of his office at a suburban shopping mall carpark. He flails back and forth from birth to death, waking up in different stages of his life, and he has no idea why.

Vonnegut based this book on his own experiences as a prisoner of war in Germany. He was one of only a very small handful of people who survived the firebombing of Dresden, one of the greatest war crimes in history. While Billy may be exploring space and time, the book revolves around his days in the war – which, as with any veteran, are simultaneously the best and worst times of his life, the saddest and the most exciting, the most interesting and the most horrific. The rest of his life is one long, mundane slide into tedium.

This is an anti-war book. As Vonnegut points out, it’s similar to an anti-glacier book. But it doesn’t matter if it’s utterly useless. It has to be written.

There is no glory or glamour in war, despite the fantasies of Billy’s comrades. It is messy and brutal and violent and stupid. The Germans are not evil – they bid goodnight to their prisoners, hunt them down with a tracking dog named Princess, and are bemused by how vicious and cruel some of the Americans are to each other.

Vonnegut has a simple style of writing, but every word has a melancholy depth to it. It’s a sadder book than the Sirens of Titan, but still filled with that fundamental moral statement on the human condition: not sad, not happy, not hopeful or pessimistic or disapproving, but just accepting. We are what we are, and we can’t change it. So it goes.

Books: 40/50
Pages: 12, 176

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