©1966 Kurt Vonnegut; (P)2008 Audible, Inc.
"Vonnegut is George Orwell, Dr. Caligari and Flash Gordon compounded into one writer...a zany but moral mad scientist." (Time)
Hey Audible, don't raise prices and I promise to buy lots more books.
“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
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.
Eclectic mixer of books of my youth and ones I always meant to read, but didn't.
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.
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
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.
I work full time in Financial Services, teach part time, listen to music (a lot) and love Science Fiction and Speculative Fiction.
I would. This was one of the best productions I have heard on Audible. Great narrator and production.
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.
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.
"Go read the book or listen to the Audible production. Movies are not nearly as good!"
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.
"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.
Vonnegut fills his canvases with light and love and mystery and the vagaries of humans who would do evil.
the main character is most fully rendered and focused upon. he's a primary color. the others are all tertiaries.
He embodied the characters in such a way you the listener can determine what you feel about them.
when the sister is revealed
I love Vonnegut's vision of what is possible.
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.
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 . . .
Ce n'est pas grave!
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.
People say I resemble my dog (and vice-versa). He can hear sounds I can't hear, but I'm the one who listens to audiobooks.
I read Mother Night back in the 70s when I first discovered Vonnegut, devouring his back catalog as quickly as possible, and even re-reading several titles two or three times over (it was the cool thing to do back then, and Vonnegut is still cool to this day). I also liked the generally under-appreciated 90s movie version of Mother Night.
I recently listened to Cat's Cradle, the book I loved best back in the day, the one I re-read the most. I found it surprisingly dated and far less clever than I remembered. That was a huge disappointment. Mutually assured destruction, religious iconoclasm, and sexual libertarianism had all become historical relics.
So I was a little worried when I started to listen to Mother Night. But those worries were quickly put to rest. There is nothing dated about the way it looks at Nazism from the inside, and the commentary about human nature that grows out of that. In fact, it puts The Book Thief to shame (yes, I realize I am in the minority in having been offended by The Book Thief's sanitized look inside Nazi Germany and its trite literary devices).
So what I love best about this reading (listening) of Mother Night is how fresh it still is, how timeless and relevant it is. Of Vonnegut's celebrated novels of the 50s and 60s, Mother Night is probably one of the lesser works in most people's minds, certainly less well known than Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat's Cradle, Breakfast of Champions, and Sirens of Titan. But I suspect it holds up as well today, if not better, than most of those books.
Not fair! Mother Night is a neverending string of memorable moments. Vonnegut's literary device -- Howard Campbell writing his memoirs while awaiting execution for war crimes -- allows the narrator to anecdotally tell one tale after another, describe one character after another, and all are memorable.
Nevertheless, after stumbling through his entire life in a self-created fog, Campbell finally learns the entire truth from his OSS handle, Frank Wirtanen, and then confronts Helga and Kraft with that truth. It is the climax of the story, and is as memorable a moment as any.
In general, I found the performance to be too slow and deliberate, but that actually is in tune with the character, Campbell, who narrates the story. But what I liked best was when Victor Bevine stepped out of that character into the voice of other characters. Major Wirtanen is especially lively.
Coming in at under six hours, that is certainly possible, but not for the manner in which I listen to audiobooks. So for me, it took three or four listenings over the course of two-three days, which is pretty much as close to one sitting as possible. It certainly is the kind of book you want to keep listening to, because the narrative voice is so consistent.
As the son of a Holocaust survivor, going inside Nazi Germany and seeing things from that point of view is always a challenge. That is a big reason why I reacted so negatively to The Book Thief (which I read rather than listened to).
As a writer, I am also sensitive about the use of artificial literary devices -- we are taught to avoid them, to "show, not tell", as Hemingway admonished. That was another reason why The Book Thief offended me -- its literary devices were so facile and disingenuous.
There is a danger with Vonnegut that his literary devices can come off as dated and disingenuous as well, as was the case upon my recent listening of Cat's Cradle. But Mother Night, in contrast to The Book Thief, scores (with me) on both counts, and operative work is timeless -- the themes he explores by going inside the mind of a Nazi, and the literary devices he uses to tell his story, remain fresh and relevant over half a century later.
There is a word for this: classic.
A cold bleak story told with warmth and humour
Surprisingly thought provoking
A great performance
If you could you would
One of those endings that makes you gasp.
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.
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