Slaughterhouse-Five is not only Vonnegut's most powerful book, it is also as important as any written since 1945. Like Catch-22, it fashions the author's experiences in the Second World War into an eloquent and deeply funny plea against butchery in the service of authority. Slaughterhouse-Five boasts the same imagination, humanity, and gleeful appreciation of the absurd found in Vonnegut's other works, but the book's basis in rock-hard, tragic fact gives it unique poignancy, and humor.
©1969 Kurt Vonnegut; (P)2003 HarperCollinsPublishers, Inc.
"Hawke rises to the occasion....Hawke adopts a confidential, whisper-like tone...the perfect pitch for this book." (Publishers Weekly)
"The book gets star treatment from narrator Ethan Hawke, who immerses us in the author's words. Hawke almost whispers his way through the text as if letting us in on a big secret, and he is marvelously effective....By the end, Hawke has taken us on a journey that both illuminates the author's words and reflects our understanding of them." (AudioFile)
So much has been written and discussed about this novel over the years that it's hard to come up with anything new. So I'll be brief:
- This book is just as powerful to listen to as it is to read.
- Ethan Hawke does an excellent job as a reader. This audio book is worth the price just for the subtle vocal punch he gives to "So it goes."
- Immediately after the book, there's a short interview with Vonnegut, followed in turn by a performance piece in which Vonnegut reads a short excerpt from the book accompanied by music and storm effects. This is interesting -- but there should have been a gap (1-2 seconds would have been enough) between the end of Hawke's reading and the start of the interview.
This is a powerful story read by a subtly powerful narrator. I highly recommend it.
This book is simply unique. I have not listened to anything like it in style. The movement between time periods could have been confusing but here it added to the excitement of the novel. For a book based on an actual time period but its readability is timeless.
Hawke did a great job of reading and his voice adds to the depth of the experience.
I was looking for an acclaimed classic - know nothing about this book or author. The risk was well rewarded. Given the status of the book - this is a must read for all.
Slaughterhouse Five is probably the best anti-war novel I ever read. By showing the absurdity of human condition in the war time, it builds in readers the strongest aversion to the war and to the pompous war heroism.
It is a surrealistic novel, sometimes skimming on the brink of science-fiction. The title refers to the Dresden's slaughterhouse where American's POWs were kept in the end of the war when Dresden bombing happened.
It's subtitle, "The Children's Crusade" refers to the scene in the beginning of the book, where former II WW soldiers were called babies by the wife of war hero. In some sense the purpose of the subtitle is to despise the typical, pompous, heroic stories of the wars.
The most of the narration is the story of Billy Pilgrim, an American soldier, who is sent by Germans to Dresden, just before the bombing. Billy experiences a mental state called "unstickness of the time" - he visits his past, present and future out of sequence, sometimes in backward direction and often, repetitively. During his time travels, he claims to be kidnapped by aliens and kept as zoo exhibit on a planet called Tralfamadore. These parts of the plot seem to be quite strange, but when you immerse into the text deeply, they play some increadible role - far from typical sci-fi motives in other novels.
In fact they have some philosophical implications. The questions of free will and of time are central here.
The bombing of Dresden is described with scarce details. The infamous "corpse mine", where one of characters dies from vomiting, is the only more detailed part of the novel.
Travelling in space and time with Billy we are faced with almost absolute absurdity of the war, the cold cruelty of men in the wartime, without calling these features by name.
What makes this book special is peculiar climate it creates.
Last but not least - the narration of Ethan Hawke was one of the best I ever experienced.
I'm the managing editor of the Fantasy Literature blog. Life's too short to read bad books!
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature.
Kurt Vonnegut was a POW in Dresden during World War II. He only survived the allies’ bombing of Dresden because the Germans housed the American prisoners in a meat-locker in a building they called Slaughterhouse-Five. For years afterward, Vonnegut attempted to write a book about his experiences, and in 1969 he eventually produced Slaughterhouse-Five, a fictional biography of one of his fellow soldiers who he calls Billy Pilgrim. In the first chapter of Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut explains that his novel will be short and “jumbled” and that it’s “a failure” because “people aren’t supposed to look back” and “there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre.” Well, the book is short and jumbled, but it’s not a failure — it’s interesting, irreverent, and very funny (if you like bleak black humor).
Billy Pilgrim has become “unstuck in time” — he seems to move up and down his own timeline, experiencing his life — his uneventful childhood, his inglorious experiences as a POW, his mundane marriage, his time in an insane asylum, his dull but lucrative career, and his death — out of order and repeatedly. Billy also believes that he was once abducted by aliens and taken to the planet Tralfamadore where they put him in a zoo so they could observe human behavior. The Tralfamadorans, who experience four dimensions and are outside of time, have a fatalistic philosophy of life, war, and death, which Billy embraces.
Vonnegut’s non-linear narrative and his repetitive imagery and language evoke a feeling of bizarreness, disorientation and impotence, which mirrors Billy Pilgrim’s feelings about his life — especially his feelings about the war where he was a weak, ineffective soldier who did nothing but get caught by the Germans and witness the deaths of thousands of innocent people. Vonnegut keeps repeating the phrase “And so it goes” after any mention of death. The phrase is used over 100 times and, rather than becoming irritating, it lends a fatalistic air. It also gets funnier each time, in a gallows humor kind of way. (The phrase is even used after we’re told that the champagne is flat.)
Along with the jumping around in time, Billy’s delusions about Tralfamadore make us assume that he’s insane. Was he insane before he went to war, or does he have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a disorder that, at that time, the military either didn’t recognize or didn’t acknowledge?
On the surface, Slaughterhouse-Five, though entertaining and funny all the way through, seems absurd and pointless. But that is the point: War is absurd and pointless. It’s illogical, irrational, and unstoppable. Vonnegut never overtly condemns war — the novel feels fatalistic instead; there is war, people die, and so it goes. If Slaughterhouse-Five is a condemnation of war, it’s a subtle condemnation, and maybe that’s why it works so well. Nobody likes to be hit over the head with a Message. Instead, Slaughterhouse-Five makes us consider the absurdity of war for human beings who, unlike the timeless Tralfamadorans, live in only three dimensions.
I listened to Harper Audio’s production of Slaughterhouse-Five. The narrator, Ethan Hawke, was amazing. This was one of the best audio productions I’ve listened to recently. Hawke, who sounds laid back and like he just smoked a couple of joints, speaks almost in a whisper. He sounds intimate and philosophical. Hawke’s narration greatly enhanced my enjoyment of Slaughterhouse-Five. There’s also an interview with Kurt Vonnegut at the end of this Harper Audio production.
A book that is 40 years old, that talks about WWII & its aftermath, that retains a flavor of the 1960s, doesn't sound like a book for our time. And yet it is. Vonnegut treats with timeless matters, the nature of war & remembrance, the impact on the soldier (whether than is called shell-shock or battle-fatigue or post-traumatic stress syndrome), the contrast between battle conditions & middle-class life. Vonnegut does this in a wonderful way, a cross between stream-of-consciousness & being "unstuck in time" that draws the reader in, playfully, and then provides a set of subtle hammerblows throughout about the philosophical matters at hand. This is not your everyday, realistic anti-war novel, or truly a left-leaning anti-war novel, as some would have it. It is just a different way of looking at the reality of war, the objectification of one side of the other. It is very timely in today's US/Iraq conflict to stimulate your thinking about right & wrong, and if right (as Billy Pilgrim once opines when asked about the fire-bombing of Dresden), the consequences of being right.
This book is wonderfully read as well. Highly recommended.
Should have listened to it a long time . . . never got around to it and am now kicking myself. Was in the middle of a poorly written book (albeit with good content) and switched mid-stream out of frustration.
The immediate leap in the quality of the prose was SO refreshing! Truly a classic book---it will be read for generations to come. Remarkable.
This is a classic pacifist satire which deserves the attention of the current generation upon Mr. Vonnegut's death (and so it goes) and the state of affairs in the world today. It has been a pleasure to revisit words that helped shape my life when I was a teenager all that time ago. However, Ethan Hawke as narrator needed better direction. Affecting a world-weary, hoarse whisper, he fails to find the voice of the bewildered, uncool anti-hero Billy Pilgrim. Hawke's mispronunciations and butchering of the French and German phrases in the book are just painful. He actually says "nuke-u-lar." Arrrgh. However, it's such a beautiful book that it's worth listening to and forgiving all that. Don't miss the lagniappe at the end of this audio version: a jazz remix of Vonnegut himself reading that amazing passage where Billy comes just a little unstuck in time and watches the war movie in reverse, where the planes take off backwards and the guns suck bullets out of people, leaving them whole and unhurt. A lovely fantasy.
Slaughterhouse Five is a brilliant book that gets better each time I read it. I love the way Kurt Vonnegut crafts words, I love the way he interfaces reality with his poetic idea of what reality is or might be. I love his ability to weave humor into such a humorless subject, and put little touches of humanity here and there in unexpected ways.
I especially love the part of the book where Billy is watching a movie. Billy is either mad because it is his way of dealing with trauma, or he really can move through time in a random manner. He watches a movie one night, but he watches it in reverse because time is going backwards. It is a war movie. It starts with a city on fire but there is a mysterious force that sucks the fires and explosions out of the city and puts it into cylinders which are magnetically lifted into the belly's of passing bombers where they are stacked in neat rows in the bomb bays. The aircraft fly backwards towards Britain. They are damaged but as they fly over France German fighters fly up and suck bullets out of the bombers so that they are suddenly perfect again and no one is injured anymore. Crashed bombers fly up from the ground to re-join their friends. The dead pilots come to life again.
The planes land back in England, and the cylinders are shipped to the United States where workers, mostly women, disassemble them and separate the dangerous contents into safe minerals which are then placed back in the ground where they remain safe forever. All the characters grow younger, including Hitler, until they are all babies and unable to harm anyone. It is a beautiful movie.
This section of the book was read by Vonnegut in 2003 and set to music. It is called Tock Tick. It is reproduced at the end of the book along with Vonnegut discussing the book and its origins. The reader is superb (he is better than Vonnegut himself). It is a provocative book, challenging, and wonderfully well written. Recommended.
This book combines all the guilty pleasures of a Kilgore Trout novel with the sort of thoughtfulness that you would expect from someone who survived the firebombing of Dresden. Even at a distance of sixty years, it is just impossible for the mind really to comprehend the deaths of 130,000 people in a raid that seems to have served no military purpose whatsoever.
Vonnegut's quasi-autobiographical account of the war focuses on the fictional Billy Pilgrim, who survives the firebombing of Dresden but can never quite get it out of his mind in later years. Billy has the peculiar gift of becoming "unstuck in time" -- being able to close his eyes and experience any of the moments of his life in any order -- which allows Vonnegut to juxtapose Billy's war experiences with his earlier and later experiences (including his kidnapping by aliens from the planet Tralfamedore). Many people die throughout the book, as they do in real life, and Vonnegut asks the basic question, "Does it matter?"
This is not an easy 'read'. The way the story unfolds, through different periods or planets, makes it not easy to follow, you have to really pay attention. But if you do, you'll hear the poetry in the words and the beauty of the prose. Ethan Hawke does an outstanding job as a narrator, pulling you in as if he's telling you some very private memories.
"Suprisingly accessible and enjoyable"
I'd agree with previous reviewers that Ethan Hawke has nailed the naration perfectly. The book has a well written forward by the author also read by Ethan Hawke. I would also add that there are a couple of pleasant suprises hidden in the afterwards.
I'd previously only encountered the film of the book. Interesting to note that the film turned out to be a very fair representation of the book. I thought the book would be a struggle, but really, it's a breeze, at least in this spoken format, probably because KV had, prior to publication, gone thru so many re-writes as to make it not far off a masterpiece. So it goes!
An unforgettable book that truly transcends category & is a really great piece of literature.
Brilliantly read & the sort of audio book that makes you put off doing more important things just to continue listening.
One of the stranger books that I have read, but the style of writing is unique and, combined with the excellent narration by Ethan Hawke it is well worth listening to. As for whether it is science fiction, I think this is a misrepresentation of a book that is much more a study of war and its terrible effects, a WWII history book, a study of insanity, with twisted black humour, a character study and some Sci-Fi thrown in. As you can tell, it is a book that is difficult to describe but impossible to forget.
"Forget the abducted by aliens...."
Slaughterhouse Five is 'science fiction' in the same way that George Orwell's 1984 was shelved in that most iniquitous section at the Lit and Phil library in Newcastle. If your cultural antecedents trace back to S?ren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche then you end up in Metamorphosis....if you are an American, then you end up on the planet Tralfamadore. This is a really good presentation of a great novel - a sometimes forgotten book which will be looked out as people re-read Vonnegut's novel following his death last year. In particular the Schlachthof-F?nf and fire bombing of Dresden depictions shine through and we are left marvelling at the basic humanity in the characterisation of Edgar Derby. Well worth a punt - and listen out particularly for the montage of music and voice as an unusual end-piece. I loved it.
"Ruined by Ethan Hawke's terrible performance."
He reads like a dodgy uncle seducing his niece in the broom cupboard. A sly monotone that drills into your bones and drains the marrow out. His voice slowly, unrelentingly grinds the book into chalk dust.
"Classic must read war novel"
Insightful, thought provoking.
I wouldn't compare it to others, it has a unique style and delivery. A true classic and one of the war novels that should be read by all
I have since listened to Don Quixote and in thinking about Danny Pilgrim; the time traveling, alien encountering protagonist of this novel, I am put in mind of that other book and its main character from which the word "quixotic" derives. This is in many ways an odd book but the narrative (helped I think by Ethan Hawke's sympathetic reading of it) has a sad lyricism to it which takes you from the horrors of WW2 to alien encounters and ultimately death. It is I think a "must read" even though I am not sure I fully understand all that the author is trying to communicate. In Billy Pilgrim though, Vonnegut has created an unforgettable character who will stay with you.
"An anti-war classic"
One of my favourite books; the story of Billy Pilgrim, a man unstuck in time.
Displaying imaginative ideas and containing my favourite ever passages (where a war film playing backwards is described; planes sucking up bombs, then flying home and dismantling them), the book's inventiveness is juxtaposed by the main character, a contender for the world's most boring and passive man, whose harmlessness makes his presence in WW!! all the sadder.
A recurring motif is the book's reaction to death; "So it goes", we hear after every fatality, which stops this loss off human life becoming mundane as it would otherwise do, and makes us think about how many deaths the book has informed us of.
Ethan Hawke is suitably subdued throughout the reading, which wouldn't work in most audiobooks, but is actually quite fitting here, albeit monotonous.
"Right up there..."
It's still sinking in just how good this book is... I finished it half an hour ago and have been sat reflecting upon it. I just know that I must help people pondering how best to use one of their credits: Get this!
It is only 5-6 hours long but is packed with so many profound moments that would, if you were reading instead of listening, cause you to stop reading and stare into space for long enough for it to sink in. I had to pause, rewind, and listen again in order to never forget what had been said so many times...
Ethan Hawke also did an excellent job.
I will listen to this again!
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