“Slaughterhouse Five” is a satirical-wartime novel written by Kurt Vonnegut. It was published in 1969.
I have never been a big reader of classical novels. Something about the diction, often slow pace and outdated character archetypes has always put me off from them. I remember the first time I was really asked to read one by a teacher in high school. It was called “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne and to this day I still consider it in my top three worst novels I’ve ever read. That said, something drew me into “Slaughterhouse Five.” I loved the cover and the author’s name. I saw that it was a war book, but the reviews written on the cover kept saying it was so funny, which doesn’t often go together with war books. I decided to give it a try.
In the novel, we follow what is essentially the entire life span of Billy Pilgrim, from around age 20-death. He is an amusing little guy, not really smart or dumb, just often extremely lucky or unlucky and caught in the middle of bizarre mishappenings. The point of the novel is to bring people’s attention to one of the largest genocides in European history, the bombing of Dresden, which has been highly thrown under the bush since it occurred. Billy was a prisoner of war during WWII and he ends up right in the middle of the Dresden bombing. He survives unscathed while the thousands of citizens, infantry and other PoW’s perish.
The novel makes frequent use of time skips and rewinds, showing us many glimpses into Billy’s future life after the main plot of Dresden is over. Billy will marry, have kids, be successful. He will also fall into obsession with a sic-fi series and later be abducted by the Tralfamadorian aliens who transcend time and live in the fourth dimension.
I don’t want to go into much more detail about the novel as it is designed to baffle and confuse the reader and giving away specific plot points may hinder that experience. Instead, I will say that the novel was a lot of fun for me to read. Billy Pilgrim is a sort of absurd character and not very relatable, but he works with the novel. I never found another character to be more interesting than him and he held my interest all the way through. This is definitely a black comedy. The novel will make you laugh, but most of it’s content is actually quite dark and saddening.
“Slaughterhouse Five” is semi-autobiographical. Kurt Vonnegut was present at the fire bombing of Dresden and he wrote this novel because he felt like more than a small handful of people in the world needed to know about it. The opening chapter of the novel, at least my copy, is actually Kurt Vonnegut himself telling a small recap of his experiences and what led him to write it.
I think that this is definitely a novel worth reading. It is short, fast paced and does not waste much time with exposition. It almost transcends time. The world is well built and it is loaded with supporting characters who just make Billy’s life all that more interesting.
If you want to read “Slaughterhouse Five,” you can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and most other major booksellers.
4.50 / 5.00