Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhouse-Five

Kurt Vonnegut's absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner o...

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Title:Slaughterhouse-Five
Author:Kurt Vonnegut
Rating:
ISBN:0385333846
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:215 pages

Slaughterhouse-Five Reviews

  • Dave Russell
    Mar 19, 2007

    Why do I love this book? I love it because of the villains. Not just the obviously villainous Paul Lazzaro--although he's one of the great villains of modern fiction. During the hellishness of war all he can think about is his own petty need to avenge slights done to him--but the larger, less obvious villains in this book: the Tralfamdorians. They’re not the type of villainous space aliens you see in most science fiction, arriving in flying saucers and hell bent on enslaving humanity, only to be

    Why do I love this book? I love it because of the villains. Not just the obviously villainous Paul Lazzaro--although he's one of the great villains of modern fiction. During the hellishness of war all he can think about is his own petty need to avenge slights done to him--but the larger, less obvious villains in this book: the Tralfamdorians. They’re not the type of villainous space aliens you see in most science fiction, arriving in flying saucers and hell bent on enslaving humanity, only to be stopped by some intrepid space cadet. (Vonnegut hated being categorized as "science fiction" because most science fiction at the time was just juvenile male wish fulfillment, which he clearly was not interested in. In fact he kind of satirizes that kind of thing in this book.) His aliens are much more fascinating than that.

    The Tralfamdorians aren't much interested in Jesus Christ's message of universal love. They're more interested in the message of Charles Darwin, that beings die to improve the species. (At least that's the message as they see it. Like I said they're villains.) To them the idea of free will is silly. (Well, villains can be right sometimes.) The world is structured in a way that everything that happens is meant to happen and there's nothing we can do about it. Concern for human feelings is useless and therefore we shouldn't give a second thought to massacres and slaughter. Just say "and so it goes," and move on. This was certainly the feeling of the Nazis with their belief in the destiny of the everlasting Reich (or whatever the phrase is,) and the Communists with their belief that the road to the future must be built on the corpses of the present. (Stalin’s most famous saying—"One death is a tragedy. One million deaths is a statistic.")

    To Billy--like Vonnegut, a witness to the slaughter at Dresden--they provide an escape. They put him in an enclosure where all his needs, material and sexual, are met and where he is protected from the poisonous gas outside. To mankind their philosophy provides an escape from moral responsibility.

    In the first chapter of the book Vonnegut tells his friend he is writing an anti-war book. His friend responds that he "might as well write an anti-glacier book," and Vonnegut kind of agrees with him. Wars, like glaciers, can’t be stopped. And yet he wrote the book anyway. Yes, death is inevitable, but to Vonnegut humanity is also worth mourning. What happened to Edgar Derby is worth relating, and we should be moved by it. Vonnegut is not satisfied to sum up Edgar’s death with the phrase, "and so it goes." I love this book because Vonnegut conjures up this fascinating alien race with a view of life that provides an opportunity for escape, but then punctures the illusion by showing that it is as facile as it is attractive.

  • Kirstie
    Feb 15, 2008

    I read this book first in 1999 when my grandfather passed away. It was a bit of a coincidence as his funeral occurred between a Primate Anatomy exam and a paper for my Experimental Fiction class on Slaughterhouse Five. I was frantically trying to remember the names of all kinds of bones when I picked this up in the other hand and tried to wrap my head around it.

    Basically, Vonnegut has written the only Tralfamadorian novel I can think of. These beings, most undoubtedly inspired in Billy Pilgrim's

    I read this book first in 1999 when my grandfather passed away. It was a bit of a coincidence as his funeral occurred between a Primate Anatomy exam and a paper for my Experimental Fiction class on Slaughterhouse Five. I was frantically trying to remember the names of all kinds of bones when I picked this up in the other hand and tried to wrap my head around it.

    Basically, Vonnegut has written the only Tralfamadorian novel I can think of. These beings, most undoubtedly inspired in Billy Pilgrim's head by the scattered science fiction plots of Kilgore Trout, experience time as a continuum that is constantly occurring...and when they look at time, even though in their version of history, the world is in a constant state of being destroyed for example, they choose to see the things that make them happy...the good moments.

    What Billy learns from these creatures is that each traumatic event that has happened in his life fits very precisely into a state of meticulous nature. It has always happened and always will happen and so it goes (on and on and on). What Billy Pilgrim truly experiences over and over in his life is Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He exists throughout his memories traveling back and forth with the knowledge of what will happen and how precise it all is. Dresden is bombed in every moment and his friend Derby is put in front of a firing squad. At every second, he is the only survivor of a plane wreck, he is getting married, and he is fighting a Children's Crusade. It's the only way he can look at the despair that has happened and make sense of it.

    When my grandfather died and I read this, I felt as if it was just what I needed because I could escape back into time and remember the good memories of my grandfather...if they existed (even if in some fourth dimension) then he was just as dead as he was alive and eating peanut butter chocolate ice cream. At the same time my grandfather had a heart attack, I was watching him play cards with my grandma at the kitchen table. But which one to think of? Well, that was easy. Death can't be prevented and so it goes but you can always try to change which moment you live in. It's a little bit different than a memory and if you go far into it, you'll end up like Billy Pilgrim, which is to say, you will go insane because the rest of the world sees time as linear and counts seconds and minutes and hours.

    Once and awhile, it doesn't hurt. I re-read this again on the plane rides home and back before and after my grandmother's funeral on Monday and last night. My grandma was a strong and intelligent woman and she always read everything she saw. My recent memories of my grandmother were of her at the holidays. She always had her mind but her physical condition had deteriorated and she was dependent on oxygen. It made me sad to think of her like this a bit.

    It's really hard for me to think that my grandma is no more but then I tell myself...well, it's silly for me to keep crying on and on about this. My grandma is right now reading at 4am in her living room chair and I am a child creeping down the stairs hoping she's still up. She is telling me that one day I'll come around and like green onions. She is reminding me to keep my feet off of the davenport and about being "tickled" by something. She lives in a jungle of houseplants and watches musicals all of the time, always pointing out when some distant relative of mine appears briefly in The Greatest Show on Earth. My grandma can't be dead and be doing all of those things, can she? It doesn't make sense. She will always be alive in some moments just like I will always be seven and nine and twenty eight and perhaps past thirty and forty. So, she'll always be here.

    I just wish I could dream about her.

  • Martine
    Mar 11, 2008

    I have to admit to being somewhat baffled by the acclaim

    has received over the years. Sure, the story is interesting. It has a fascinating and mostly successful blend of tragedy and comic relief. And yes, I guess the fractured structure and time-travelling element must have been quite novel and original back in the day. But that doesn't excuse the book's flaws, of which there are a great many in my (seemingly unconventional) opinion. Take, for instance, Vonnegut's endless repeti

    I have to admit to being somewhat baffled by the acclaim

    has received over the years. Sure, the story is interesting. It has a fascinating and mostly successful blend of tragedy and comic relief. And yes, I guess the fractured structure and time-travelling element must have been quite novel and original back in the day. But that doesn't excuse the book's flaws, of which there are a great many in my (seemingly unconventional) opinion. Take, for instance, Vonnegut's endless repetition of the phrase 'So it goes.' Wikipedia informs me it crops up 106 times in the book. It felt like three hundred times to me. About forty pages into the book, I was so fed up with the words 'So it goes' that I felt like hurling the book across the room, something I have not done since trying to read up on French semiotics back in the 1990s. I got used to coming across the words every two pages or so eventually, but I never grew to like them. God, no.

    I found some other nits to pick, too. Some of them were small and trivial and frankly rather ridiculous, such as -- wait for it -- the hyphen in the book's title. Seriously, what is that hyphen doing there? There's no need for a hyphen there. Couldn't someone have removed it, like, 437 editions ago? And while I'm at it, couldn't some discerning editor have done something about the monotonous quality of Vonnegut's prose -- about the interminable repetition of short subject-verb-object sentences? Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying all authors should use Henry James- or Claire Messud-length sentences. Heaven forbid. I'm actually rather fond of minimalism, both in visual art and in writing. But Vonnegut's prose is so sparse and simplistic it's monotonous rather than minimalist, to the point where I frequently found myself wishing for a run-on sentence every now and then, or for an actual in-depth description of something. I hardly ever got either. As a result, there were times when I felt like I was reading a bare-bones outline of a story rather than the story itself. Granted, it was an interesting outline, larded with pleasing ideas and observations, but still, I think the story could have been told in a more effective way. A less annoying way, too.

    As for the plot, I liked it. I liked the little vignettes Vonnegut came up with and the colourful characters he created (the British officers being my particular favourites). I liked the fact that you're never quite sure whether Billy is suffering from dementia, brain damage or some kind of delayed post-traumatic stress disorder, or whether there is some actual time-travelling going on. I even liked the jarring switches in perspective, although I think they could have been handled in a slightly more subtle manner. And I liked the book's anti-war message, weak and defeatist though it seemed to be. In short, I liked the book, but it took some doing. I hope I'll be less annoyed by the two other Vonnegut books I have sitting on my shelves,

    and

    .

  • Stephanie
    Apr 15, 2008

    I miss Kurt Vonnegut.

    He hasn't been gone all that long. Of course he isn't gone, yet he is gone. He has always been alive and he will always be dead. So it goes.

    Slaughterhouse-five is next to impossible to explain, let alone review, but here I am. And here I go.

    What is it about?

    It's about war.

    It's about love and hate.

    It's about post traumatic stress.

    It's about sanity and insanity.

    It's about aliens (not the illegal kind, the spacey kind).

    It's about life.

    It's about death.

    so it goes.

    "That's one th

    I miss Kurt Vonnegut.

    He hasn't been gone all that long. Of course he isn't gone, yet he is gone. He has always been alive and he will always be dead. So it goes.

    Slaughterhouse-five is next to impossible to explain, let alone review, but here I am. And here I go.

    What is it about?

    It's about war.

    It's about love and hate.

    It's about post traumatic stress.

    It's about sanity and insanity.

    It's about aliens (not the illegal kind, the spacey kind).

    It's about life.

    It's about death.

    so it goes.

    "That's one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times and concentrate on the good ones."

    This is how I live my life. This is how I get through the day. Most days I am successful, some days I'm not. Today is one of the "not" days. Like so many Americans these days, I feel I'm in a rut. Like so many Americans I don't understand why I am where I am. This was not the plan. This was not what I had in mind......

    Oh poor me....boo hoo.

    This book. This book got me thinking. So much about life sucks, true, but not many of us want to give up on it that easy. Why? because of the "good ones". And what makes "good ones" is our ability to create and enjoy creating.....at least I think so.

    "Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever. MAKE."

    — Joss Whedon

    If you make something, a painting, a poem, a novel, a good meal, a person.....you continue to live even after death. I think that's what Mr. Vonnegut was getting at. Maybe.

    At least that is how he has remained alive for me.

  • TK421
    Aug 13, 2009

    There are only a few books that I ever really try to revisit. Sherlock Holmes and his stories are one. Some Shakespeare. And Slaughterhouse-Five.

    I have read this book every year since my first reading almost ten years ago. I read it as an undergraduate; I read it as a graduate student. I've written three or four papers about it. And, yes, I have tried to pawn this book off on as many people as I could over the years.

    You see, this book does something to me whenever I read it. It takes me places

    There are only a few books that I ever really try to revisit. Sherlock Holmes and his stories are one. Some Shakespeare. And Slaughterhouse-Five.

    I have read this book every year since my first reading almost ten years ago. I read it as an undergraduate; I read it as a graduate student. I've written three or four papers about it. And, yes, I have tried to pawn this book off on as many people as I could over the years.

    You see, this book does something to me whenever I read it. It takes me places. Sure there is the time travel, other-world element to the novel, but the places it takes me are not physical in nature. I can't rightly say that they are spiritual either. Basically, the best way I can describe it is where I am taken is if my heart, mind, soul, education, fears, desires, and dreams were all placed in a blender and set to liquefy. And then this slosh of material is constructed into whatever semblance of a structure can be created from this amalgam.

    This novel gets me to question not only life, but what it means that I was the lucky sperm to reach the egg, or that I was the lucky egg that was implanted. Oh dear, I fear I am convoluting what it is I am trying to say.

    Okay, here goes: This book questions war. It questions as to why humans feel it is imperative to destroy. It questions what it might be like to live a completely different life than the one you live now. But it doesn't try to give bullshit answers. In fact, it really doesn't try to give answers to anything. And since this book is based on actual experiences Vonnegut suffered during WWII, it might be better said that this novel is really a science fiction memoir.

    Dammit, I am screwing this up. I cannot seem to say it is that I want to say.

    Enough already! Read the book. Or don't read the book. I know what it does to me.

    So it goes.

    VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDEED

  • Simeon
    Aug 21, 2010

    There are some terrible reviews of SH5 floating around Goodreads, but one particularly awful sentiment is that Slaughterhouse-Five isn't anti-war.

    This is usually based on the following quote.

    There are some terrible reviews of SH5 floating around Goodreads, but one particularly awful sentiment is that Slaughterhouse-Five isn't anti-war.

    This is usually based on the following quote.

    On Tralfamadore, Billy was introduced to the revelation that all things happen exactly as they do, and that they will always happen that way, and that they will never happen any other way. Meaning, time is all at once. The aliens, incidentally, admit to destroying the universe in a comical accident fated far into the future, and they're very sorry, but so it goes. <- passive acceptance

    The entire story up to this point has been about Billy, buffeted like a powerless pathetic leaf in a storm, pushed this way and that by forces entirely outside his tiny purview. He lays catatonically in a hospital bed after the plane crash and the death of his wife, and all the time traveling back and forth from Dresden where toddlers and families and old grannies and anti-war civilians were burned alive in a carefully organized inferno (so it goes), and Billy is about ready to agree to absolutely anything.

    It can't be prevented. It can't be helped.

    You're powerless, after a while. What hope have we, or anyone caught in the middle of a war, or even the poor soldiers who are nothing but pawns and children (hence the children's crusade), to influence these gigantic, global events?

    Therefore, Billy agrees with the hateful, the cruel Mr. Rumfoord, who is revising his military history of WWII, having previously forgotten to mention the Dresden bombing, which cost twice as many innocent lives as the nuking of Hiroshima. Women and children, not evaporated instantly, but melted slowly by chemicals and liquid flame, their leftovers, according to Billy, lying in the street like blackened logs, or in piles of families who died together in their little homes.

    Incidentally, how can anything be pro-war or anti-war? Because being anti-war is a bit like being anti-conflict, anti-death, and anti-suffering. Is there a book that's pro these things? Is there a book that touches on the subject of war and is not against it?

    We don't support wars, though we are sometimes forced to accept them. Anyone who thinks that the bombing of Dresden was necessary is delusional.

    It's like saying, "yo, look how they bombed these innocents - that shit was wrong! Let's go bomb some innocents, too."

    That's the sad truth of it.

  • Cecily
    Nov 07, 2010

    A strange and intriguing book that I found very hard to rate: a mixture of wartime memoir and sci fi - occasionally harrowing, sometimes funny and other times thought-provoking.

    PLOT

    It is the episodic story of Billy Pilgrim, a small town American boy, who is a POW in the second world war, later becomes a successful optometrist and who occasionally and accidentally travels in time to other periods of his life, so he has "memories of the future". Oh, he also gets abducted by aliens, along with som

    A strange and intriguing book that I found very hard to rate: a mixture of wartime memoir and sci fi - occasionally harrowing, sometimes funny and other times thought-provoking.

    PLOT

    It is the episodic story of Billy Pilgrim, a small town American boy, who is a POW in the second world war, later becomes a successful optometrist and who occasionally and accidentally travels in time to other periods of his life, so he has "memories of the future". Oh, he also gets abducted by aliens, along with some furniture. "So it goes." (That is the catchphrase of the book, and I found rather annoying after the umpteenth time. It's used in Philip K Dick's "Ubik" (review

    ), which I assumed was a nod to Vonnegut, until I discovered both were published in the same year).

    It starts with an old man reminiscing about his life. He is asked about the point of writing an anti-war book, "Why don't you write an anti-glacier book instead?" After that, it jumps about, much as Billy does, "Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time... he is in a constant state of stage fright".

    The most thought-provoking bits for me were Billy's mother who tried "to construct a life that makes sense from things she found in gift shops", the bathos with which some war events were described (e.g. being executed for stealing a teapot), and the alien Tralfamadorian's multi-dimensional and multi-sexual world. For instance, they have five sexes, but their differences were in the fourth dimension and they couldn't imagine how time looks to Billy (they also told him that seven sexes were essential for human reproduction!).

    MESSAGE

    A main message is surprisingly positive: if we could only see or feel the fourth dimension, we would realise that "when a person dies he only appears to die. He is very much alive in the past".

    SPOONS

    Spoons are mentioned oddly often, as a description of how people lie (lovers or fallen soldiers). Then, near the end, actual spoons are briefly important. I have no idea whether this is significant.

    UPDATE: Thanks to a comment from Matthias on his excellent review (read it

    ), I have, not an answer, but a great spoon reference in The Matrix:

    "

    "

    RELATED BOOKS

    It has strong links with several other books: as it's Vonnegut, the "fictitious" sci fi writer, Kilgore Trout, gets several mentions.

    The mode of time travel clearly influenced Octavia Butler's

    , review

    ,

    and Audrey Niffenegger's

    , review

    .

    When he watches a WW2 film in reverse, it's very like Amis's

    , review

    .

    For a more linguistic and philosophical take on the implications of Tralfamadorians living in all time, simultaneously, see the heptapods in Ted Chiang's

    , review

    .

    Also compare it with the Borges short story

    , which is in The Book of Sand, review

    It also left me wanting to read a Tralfamadorian book with its simultaneous threads, "no beginning, no middle, no end... What we love in our books are the depths of many marvellous moments seen all at one time", which is surely what Vonnegut was trying to create for mere human readers.

  • Garima
    May 23, 2012

    I finally read Vonnegut. I finally read a war novel. And after a long time I finally read something with so many GR ratings and a decent number of reviews which is precisely the reason I have nothing much to add to the already expressed views here. So I urge you to indulge me to state a personal anecdote. Thank You.

    My Grandfather was a POW during Indo-China war and remained in confinement for some six months. By the time I got to know about it I had already watched too many movies and crammed en

    I finally read Vonnegut. I finally read a war novel. And after a long time I finally read something with so many GR ratings and a decent number of reviews which is precisely the reason I have nothing much to add to the already expressed views here. So I urge you to indulge me to state a personal anecdote. Thank You.

    My Grandfather was a POW during Indo-China war and remained in confinement for some six months. By the time I got to know about it I had already watched too many movies and crammed endless number of answers about when and where such n such war was fought. But I was naïve and let’s assume innocent and someone who was yet to learn to ask the right questions. So the fact that someone so close in the family had witness something I only read in schoolbooks was utterly fascinating for me. Thus began my streak of stupid questions.

    Me: Did you kill someone? Did they torture you? Did you dig some sort of tunnel to escape? And so on.

    My Grandpa gave this hearty laugh he is famous for and said that I’m missing one important question: Why the war happened at first place? I thought for a while and answered: Because it always happens.

    I can’t recall properly what he replied to that but it was something on the lines of this: I wish the answer changes when you’ll grow up because as of now that’s exactly how it is. War always happens.

    With books like Slaughterhouse-Five (Schlachthöf-fünf), it’s not the writing which matters but simply the ideas and thoughts it carries which transgresses the literary boundaries and create a place in the heart of the readers as a humble reminder that Love happens, Hate happens, Life happens, Death happens, Peace happens, War happens and sometimes Shit happens.

  • Matthias
    Aug 05, 2014

    Listen:

    This reviewer is stuck in time. He is unable to escape the narrow confines of the invisible, intangible machinery mercilessly directing his life from a beginning towards an end. The walls surrounding him are dotted with windows looking out on darkened memories and foggy expectations, easing the sense of claustrophobia but offering no way out. The ceiling is crushing down on this man while he paces frantically through other people's lives and memories in hopes of shaping his own and forget

    Listen:

    This reviewer is stuck in time. He is unable to escape the narrow confines of the invisible, intangible machinery mercilessly directing his life from a beginning towards an end. The walls surrounding him are dotted with windows looking out on darkened memories and foggy expectations, easing the sense of claustrophobia but offering no way out. The ceiling is crushing down on this man while he paces frantically through other people's lives and memories in hopes of shaping his own and forgetting the enormity of oblivion looming above his head. He reads book after book after book. He reads Kurt Vonnegut's

    . He gets immersed, he gets lost in the pages. He smiles. He wonders. He tumbles. He laughs a laugh that seems to come from somewhere deep within him, telling him that everything is beautiful. A laugh that shoots up from a dark place and illuminates the universe, bathing it in colour, showing all the hidden threads in a fraction of a second. The man is consoled, recognizing that fraction as an eternity. He closes the book and looks around him. The space got bigger, the windows show a clearer picture. He sees his situation with a new light emanating from his own eyes and, looking up, notices the oppressive ceiling is no longer there. It made way for the sky, sometimes blue, sometimes painted with stars and clouds. He ruminates on this new canvas for his thoughts as a bird flies by and calls to him.

    .

  • Bookworm Sean
    Apr 17, 2015

    Every so often you read a book, a book that takes everything you thought created an excellent novel and tears it to pieces; it then sets it on fire and throws it out the window in a display of pure individual brilliance. That is how I felt when I read this jumbled and absurd, yet

    , novel.

    The book has no structure or at the very least a perceivable one: it’s all over the place. But, it works so well. It cements the book’s message and purpose underlining its meaning. Indeed, this book is

    Every so often you read a book, a book that takes everything you thought created an excellent novel and tears it to pieces; it then sets it on fire and throws it out the window in a display of pure individual brilliance. That is how I felt when I read this jumbled and absurd, yet

    , novel.

    The book has no structure or at the very least a perceivable one: it’s all over the place. But, it works so well. It cements the book’s message and purpose underlining its meaning. Indeed, this book is an anti-war novel, which is asserted (in part) through its random and confusing organisation. The story is “jumbled and jangled” such as the meaning of war. It appears pointless to the reader, again alluding to the meaning of war. It also suggests that after the war a soldier’s life is in ruins and has no clear direction, which can be seen with the sad case of Billy Pilgrim.

    Billy Pilgrim is a poor tortured soul who after the fire-bombing of Dresden is in a state of flux. His mind cannot remain in the present and darts back and forth in time like the narrative. He was never the most assertive of men, and after the war became a shadow of his already meek self. The war has left him delusional, which is manifested by his abduction by aliens. This may or may not have happened. Vonnegut leaves it up to the reader to decide. What decision they make effects what genre the novel belongs to.

    If Billy was abducted by aliens then this is sci-fi, but if it is a figment of his imagination then this becomes something much deeper. It’s up to the reader how they interpret it, but I personally believe that he wasn’t abducted. I think he made it up, unconsciously, as a coping strategy for the effects of war, and that the author has used it as a tool to raise questions of the futility of free will, but more importantly to further establish the anti-war theme.

    Vonnegut draws on a multitude of sources to establish this further, such as the presidential address of Truman. He ironically suggests that the A-bomb, whilst devastating, is no worse than ordinary war; he points out the fact that the fire-bombing of Dresden killed more than the nuking of Hiroshima. Through this he uses Billy Pilgrim’s life as a metaphor for what war for the effects of war on the human state.

    Vonnegut himself is a character within the narrative as the life of Billy Pilgrim is, in part, an autobiographical statement. The narrator addresses the reader and informs them of this. He tells them that this all happened more or less. This establishes the black humour towards war and the inconsequential deaths of those that are in it. Hence the motif “so it goes” at each, and every, mention of death whether large or small. He ends the book on the line “poo-te-weet.” He even tells the reader he is going to do this, but at the same time demonstrates that there is nothing intelligible to be said about war.

    I warn you, if you’ve not read this, it is one of the most bizarre books you will ever read. The main character time travels, in his mind, and has no real present state. The narrative initially appears random and completely confusing. But, once you reach the end you’ll see this book for what it is: the most individual, and unique, statement against war that will ever be written.

    - I just wanted to show off some pics of this gorgeous edition I bought. I just love the Folio Society; they print some damn fine books.