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Mother Night | [Kurt Vonnegut]

Mother Night

American Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a spy during World War II, is now on trial in Israel as a Nazi war criminal. But is he really guilty? In this brilliant book rife with true gallows humor, Kurt Vonnegut turns black and white into a chilling shade of grey with a verdict that will haunt us all. Mother Night is a daring challenge to our moral sense.
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Publisher's Summary

American Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a spy during World War II, is now on trial in Israel as a Nazi war criminal. But is he really guilty? In this brilliant book rife with true gallows humor, Kurt Vonnegut turns black and white into a chilling shade of grey with a verdict that will haunt us all. Mother Night is a daring challenge to our moral sense.

©1966 Kurt Vonnegut; (P)2008 Audible, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"Vonnegut is George Orwell, Dr. Caligari and Flash Gordon compounded into one writer...a zany but moral mad scientist." (Time)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.2 (427 )
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4.3 (292 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Robert Yamhill, OR, United States 09-04-12
    Robert Yamhill, OR, United States 09-04-12 Member Since 2009

    Hey Audible, don't raise prices and I promise to buy lots more books.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "“We are what we pretend to be”"

    “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.” This is one of the most often quoted of Kurt Vonnegut’s writings and one of the central themes of this selection. Because it is revealed early in the book that the main character and storyteller pretends to be the broadcaster of Nazi propaganda during WWII, it’s not much of a spoiler. It is also revealed early on that he is an agent who sends coded messages to the Americans in his broadcasts. Therein is the tension in the book between the “good” and “evil” roles the protagonist must play. And, there are layers here to the good and evil dichotomy: do the ends justify the means and how does society and history deal with those individuals who do evil things to achieve righteous goals.

    This all sounds like a book that might be rather reflective and philosophical and, for some, this may turn out to but need not be the case. The book starts off simply enough and contains incidentals that are seemingly tangential but all of which interweave and come together in the end with a rather unexpected conclusion. The story is haunting from beginning to end. If you are anything like me, this is a tale that will stay with you for days after finishing it. This is simple and beautiful prose about some of the complexity of our human nature.

    The book is more meta-fiction than historical fiction. While the book has been characterized as black comedy, for me the book was deadly serious. I would not even call it gallows humor. When it comes to this time and place in history, I find nothing humorous nor do I think that the author intended that. The book does not seem to purport to dramatize, with any accuracy, core events that actually happened in way of the protagonist. The historical figures, places and things relative to WWII are there but, with regard to this Nazi propagandist, spy for the U.S. around whom the whole story revolves, no such person existed.

    One of the best narrators of audiobooks, Victor Bevine, reads the book literally with short bursts of “..,” he said, “..,” she said, “..,” he said” that were totally distracting. If this were not such an incredible book, I would have been totally put off by this kind of nonsense production and I cannot help but forgive this shortcoming. In fact, Mr. Bevine is a great performer of different character voices and this kind of “he said” reading was not necessary. His performance of various characters in the Hyperion Cantos is almost without peer. This must have been a decision on the part of the producer or publisher Audible Modern Vanguard but it was a decision that did not do this wonderful book justice. Strange that the word modern is in the publisher’s name. This is not the way modern audiobooks should be produced. That aside, the book is still highly recommended.

    Story and Writing: 5 Stars
    Narrator: 5 Stars
    Decision to use He said-, She said-type of production: 0 Stars

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    William Menominee, MI, USA 03-28-09
    William Menominee, MI, USA 03-28-09
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    "One of Vonnegut's Best"

    I read "Mother Night" in college in the 60's. It was great then - it is still great. I believe it is one of Vonnegut's best novels, written at a time when he wrote novels instead of extended short stories that depended upon refrains and cartoons. (Sorry Kurt, but I know you'll understand what I mean, wherever you are.) The audio narration and pacing is excellent, the subject matter is complex and yet is told with simplicity and clarity. This is good stuff.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ian C Robertson South Australia, Australia 04-02-14
    Ian C Robertson South Australia, Australia 04-02-14 Member Since 2010

    Eclectic mixer of books of my youth and ones I always meant to read, but didn't.

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    "Thought Provoking"

    There are not many books that I have read or heard that stimulate so much deep thought and moral questioning as this title. This was apparent to me from the copious amount of notes that I took whilst listening, even exceeding the notes I took for reviewing "The Road". That is because the central character, Howard W. Campbell, is so difficult to place within one's moral compass. At times he's so redeemable and at others he is plain offensive. Most of the time he's somewhere in the middle. It's hard to like him, but I couldn't bring myself to hate him either. That normally makes for a shallow book (reflecting a shallow character), but not this time.
    This was also a title that drove me to the 'Net; to research the real life counter-part of Campbell, the Lords Haw-Haw and Hee-Haw of WWII. The latter was an American christened Fred W. Kaltenbach (according to Wiki). I also looked into the Nazi propaganda machine of Herr Goebbles. I lthink this quote from Goebbles captured Campbell's elusive mediocrity and provide his moral refuge,
    "The essence of propaganda consists in winning people over to an idea so sincerely, so vitally, that in the end they succumb to it utterly and can never escape from it."
    The other characters are also very interesting. Wirtanen, who enlists Campbell, is a particularly challenging character. Some of his justifications of the unjustifiable in the name of patriotism reminded me of Milo Mindbender's explanations to Yossarin (about how the Syndicate in "Catch-22" can buy for 7c and sell at 5c for a profit).
    The performance of Victor Bevine was very good, too. I thought he captured the mood of the text. He drove me to get a copy of the 1996 movie (starring Nick Nolte and Sheryl Lee, the latter of "Twin Peaks" fame), which I enjoyed the more for having heard the text presented so well.
    Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this listen. It stimulated, questioned and entertained. You can't ask for more provoking that that.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kim Spokane, WA, United States 10-28-13
    Kim Spokane, WA, United States 10-28-13 Member Since 2009

    Addicted to audiobooks & podcasts. 5 Stars=I Loved It, 4 Stars=Enjoyed it Thoroughly, 3=Kinda Good, 2=Bad/Boring, 1=Complete Waste of Credit

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    "Interesting but forgettable"

    I picked up this title because the author was revered in my parents' generation and I wanted to know why. I'm not sure if I missed the point or if I ruined it by expecting something controversial or at least special - either way I find myself lukewarm on Vonnegut at this point. It was enough to keep me interested though so I won't slam it too much - 3 stars.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    thomas charlotte, NC, United States 09-16-13
    thomas charlotte, NC, United States 09-16-13 Member Since 2012

    I work full time in Financial Services, teach part time, listen to music (a lot) and love Science Fiction and Speculative Fiction.

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    "Tremendous"
    Would you listen to Mother Night again? Why?

    I would. This was one of the best productions I have heard on Audible. Great narrator and production.


    What other book might you compare Mother Night to and why?

    In my opinion this is where Vonnegut made his reputation as a preeminent American author. I think this is his finest work in terms of tone, plot, message and literary skill.Touching, heartbreaking and ultimately a story of duality, hope, survival and the choices that make all of us human. A message as relevant today as the day it was written.Name the bet of American literature and I wold compare it to that text. Vonnegut has been dismissed as SF writer, but this is stunning literature.


    What does Victor Bevine bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    This narrator did a spectacular job with Dan SImmons Hyperion Cantos which is my favorite all time Audible production (besides Dune). This is even better.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    "Go read the book or listen to the Audible production. Movies are not nearly as good!"


    Any additional comments?

    I recommend you spend a credit on this book. Vonnegut is a great writer who has never gotten his due. This book (in my opinion) cements his status as a great, American writer.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Julia Smith 07-20-09
    Julia Smith 07-20-09 Member Since 2009
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    "Amazing"

    "We are who we pretend to be, so we must be careful who we pretend to be." This book is beyond amazing. I highly recommend it not just for the book but the narrator did a fantastic job as well. You just can't decide if Howard is a hero or a villain.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    heART seneca sc 04-06-14
    heART seneca sc 04-06-14 Member Since 2012

    artist heart

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    "Vonnegut at his Best"
    What made the experience of listening to Mother Night the most enjoyable?

    Vonnegut fills his canvases with light and love and mystery and the vagaries of humans who would do evil.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    the main character is most fully rendered and focused upon. he's a primary color. the others are all tertiaries.


    What about Victor Bevine’s performance did you like?

    He embodied the characters in such a way you the listener can determine what you feel about them.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    when the sister is revealed


    Any additional comments?

    I love Vonnegut's vision of what is possible.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Debbie Toney, Alabama 01-23-14
    Debbie Toney, Alabama 01-23-14 Member Since 2009

    Retired CFO, Army wife, Mom of five, Grandma of six, two sons who served in combat, love to read books that reflect my values and faith, love mysteries, historical, military stories, and books that don't waste my time . . . if it doesn't have an ending that was worth the wait, I'm not a happy camper.

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    "Not What I Expected . . ."

    Historical fiction is a favorite of mine, but I don't exactly think this one qualifies . . . I prefer the stories that have lessons that we can learn from, not those that spend their entirety examining the psychological and moral leanings of the main character. I'm completely thrown off by the number of overwhelmingly excellent reviews. Clearly, I'm in the minority here. But not the first time. A life wasted is just not my cup of tea . . .

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Lisbeth Louisville, KY, United States 01-12-14
    Lisbeth Louisville, KY, United States 01-12-14 Member Since 2011

    Ce n'est pas grave!

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    "Great to find another outstanding Vonnegut book"

    This book is a poignant and engrossing listen, full of unexpected twists and turns throughout. Kudos to the narrator for using restraint with voices and letting the listeners reach their own judgments and conclusions about the intentions and motivations of the main characters, which are complex. The reader/listener is left with that feeling that on one is ever completely good or bad, but an ever changing mixture of both.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Shawn Franklin, WI, United States 12-14-13
    Shawn Franklin, WI, United States 12-14-13 Member Since 2013

    Big fan of listening to books of all shapes and sizes. Primarily: sci fi, fantasy, nonfiction in human services, buddhism, and classics.

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    "Captures Vonnegut's Tragicomic Ironies"
    What did you like best about this story?

    Provides an excellent exploration of the totalitarian mindset.


    Which character – as performed by Victor Bevine – was your favorite?

    Howard W. Campbell Jr. -- and Resi. The narrator handles the brief German language pieces beautifully. Throughout he captures the absurdity of all and the quiet despair of Campbell with an extremely engaging and subtly dynamic performance.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    It has the capacity to do both. Toward the end there are some really excellent explorations of the absurdity of mindsets that lead to individual, group, and national violence that I found arresting.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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  • Neil S. Reddy
    England
    7/7/14
    Overall
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    "Darkly Brilliant"
    What made the experience of listening to Mother Night the most enjoyable?

    A cold bleak story told with warmth and humour


    What did you like best about this story?

    Surprisingly thought provoking


    What about Victor Bevine’s performance did you like?

    A great performance


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    If you could you would


    Any additional comments?

    One of those endings that makes you gasp.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • PAOLA
    CORTEGLIA, Switzerland
    5/22/14
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    "German anyone???"
    What didn’t you like about Victor Bevine’s performance?

    I like Victor Bevine's voice and tone but the producers should have selected a narrator with some knowledge of the German language. Bevine reads the many single words and whole sentences written in German with such an accent that makes my stomach churn every time. It's quite clear he doesn't know what he is reading. This spoiled the experience for me and as much as I love Vonnegut I can't forget how badly this was read.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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