Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut: a Review

Book #8 in the 2016 Reading Challenge is a book that was banned at some point. For this, I chose to read Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut. I wondered why this book had been banned, so I tried to find out. Among the reasons, I found it was due to profanity, explicit sexual references and violent imagery. It has been banned and challenged many times in the years since it’s publication in 1969.

To be honest, I can’t say that I particularly enjoyed this book. I had a difficult time getting started on it, and even by the time I was halfway through, I still felt like I was reading an assignment.

Written during the Vietnam war, this is very much an anti-war statement. It is intentionally vulgar and offensive. Vonnegut’s dark humor is put to full effect. He uses some shocking and sometimes poignant imagery in order to convey his message. And I might say, quite effectively.

There was one image in particular I found rather stunning. The book’s protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, has become “unstuck in time” and in this scene, he is watching a war movie, but in reverse. American bombers take off backwards from England and return over Germany while German fighters suck bullets and shrapnel from the bombers. Over the bombed German city, the flames are sucked in and tucked neatly back into the bombs which then return to the planes. It concludes…

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 minerals. 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 that they would never hurt anybody 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.

It’s a beautiful image, one that will likely stay with me a long time. If only it were that easy to pack up war and put it away for good.

Would I recommend this book? Though I didn’t particularly enjoy it, this book includes some striking images. If you are not put off by the vulgarity and explicit language, it has its moments. So, yes, go ahead and read it. Be offended even. But dare to look beyond the offensive language and see what was so offensive to Vonnegut in the first place that he had to write this book: war.