Title: Slaughterhouse Five
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Release Date: October 6th, 1998
Genre: Autobiography, war drama
Prisoner of war, optometrist, time-traveller – these are the life roles of Billy Pilgrim, hero of this miraculously moving, bitter and funny story of innocence faced with apocalypse. Slaughterhouse 5 is one of the world’s great anti-war books. Centring on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden in the Second World War, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.
So, disclosure from me, right at the beginning….I am not drawn to war novels, or overly heavy stories, or biographies of those enduring horrific circumstances. I believe I have enough stress in my own life to deal with, why would I want to spend my limited free-time dwelling on someone else’s? And even though I like my characters and their stories complex, I avoid depressing tales, especially if those tales have no light at the end of their tunnel. For example, I really did not enjoy “The Giver” for this reason. I found it depressing and it left me feeling annoyed and empty. I am also not a fan of satire. I find that it also leaves me feeling annoyed…so you can imagine my anticipation of reading Slaughterhouse Five as our next Classic Challenge. As part of a realistic agreement with Audrey for us both to read and review Classic books, I need to read some titles that she is already committed to reading for her AP Language class. This is the first title we are both reading from her assigned list.
I am shocked, I didn’t hate this book! This book, written with a pen dripping in satire about a guy and his depressing experiences in war. Slaughterhouse Five would not normally be a book I would choose on my own, however in hindsight, I am glad I read it. After all, our goal of reading and reviewing classic books is to CHALLENGE ourselves to become better thinkers and writers. This book was a good stepping stone for that specific purpose.
Vonnegut structured the retelling of Billy Pilgrim’s story in such a way that it was surprisingly easy to follow. It jumps around from scene to scene in different periods of time and various stages of thought or consciousness, but it remains consistently told from Billy Pilgrim’s point of view. Regardless of the symbolism or irony being used, I was able to clearly picture each moment through his descriptions. Wow! His amazing descriptions! Common everyday occurrences as well as fantastical events are all described with serene ease. Usually just by recounting the facts as seen through Billy Pilgrim’s eyes, the writer illustrates beyond sight and smell to include emotions, prejudices, ideals and dynamics that often can be quite challenging to convey!
Many situations had dual, if not at the very least, a deeper meaning. The bigger picture, I think, is how profoundly poor Billy Pilgrim was affected by his experiences in war-torn Germany. His mind is overwhelmed with the grisly images he saw and the horrific cruelty he survived, despite his seemingly indifferent narrative. In the end, I saw Billy as a pretty regular guy with a knack for survival. Yes, he endured horrific circumstances (as I eluded to in my opening statement), but Billy’s triumph is his ability to remain a relatable character while expounding his perception of reality.