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.
As an added bonus, when you purchase our Audible Modern Vanguard production of Kurt Vonnegut's book, you'll also receive an exclusive Jim Atlas interview. This interview – where James Atlas interviews Gay Talese about the life and work of Kurt Vonnegut – begins as soon as the audiobook ends.
“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
11 of 11 people found this review helpful
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.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
"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.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
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.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful
Vonnegut is his usual sharp self, always plumbing the depth of the duality of human nature and our concepts of good and evil. The characters are engaging and fleshed out as well as any of his other novels. Great story, easy to follow, with the focus being on the characters' individual anguish resulting from past actions and the increasingly hazy recollections of WWII. Not as humorous as his other novels like Cat's Cradle or Slaughterhouse Five (yes, even that was funnier). Still, one of the top Vonnegut books, pleasing to his his fans and any casual reader.
The narrator was good, pleasing to the ear, and nondescript. Perhaps that is good about a narrator--the he or she does not stick out beyond the material. He did a good job of jumping between voices and did not over-act any part of it.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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
“I had hoped, as a broadcaster, to be merely ludicrous, but this is a hard world to be ludicrous in, with so many human beings so reluctant to laugh, so incapable of thought, so eager to believe and snarl and hate. So many people wanted to believe me! Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile.”
In "Mother Night," Vonnegut takes the mother of all black and white scenarios - an accused Nazi on trial in Israel for war crimes against humanity - and adds levels of complexity and nuance until it is a very murky shade of grey. Howard W. Campbell, Jr. is an American actor living in war-time Germany when he is recruited by the CIA as an American spy. He becomes a radio broadcaster, a propogandist for the SS, helping to fan the flames of hatred and unrest. Within his broadcasts, he includes coded messages to American intelligence. But he becomes so effective in his position, plays his role so well, that it soon becomes unclear which side he's on. Campbell himself is taken aback by his own success in Germany and amongst the Nazis, for (as the quote above illustrates) he layered it on so thick in his broadcasts that he never thought such vile would ever be taken seriously by society, let alone swallowed and digested whole. After the war ends, the CIA refuses to acknowledge their relationship with him for fear of aligning themselves with such a notorious Nazi war criminal, while all the time he had been following their directives, sacrificing his whole self - life, reputation, career, marriage - for a sense of moral patriotism, rather than patriotism connected to country, which he wholly rejected.
“You hate America, don't you?'
"That would be as silly as loving it,' I said. 'It's impossible for me to get emotional about it, because real estate doesn't interest me. It's no doubt a great flaw in my personality, but I can't think in terms of boundaries. Those imaginary lines are as unreal to me as elves and pixies. I can't believe that they mark the end or the beginning of anything of real concern to a human soul. Virtues and vices, pleasures and pains cross boundaries at will.”
This book takes a close, questioning look at moral culpability, individual reasoning, and personal responsibility. What is the nature of his guilt, if any, both in the eyes of society and in his own conscience? What is the responsibility of society towards the individual? What are the stories we tell ourselves to justify our actions, and does our righteous reasoning make them justified? This slim story raises many questions with no easy answers. It is brilliant.
2 of 3 people found this review helpful
The same compact sentence structure that makes the story so easy to read and removes obstacles from understanding the characters makes it hard to listen to. The cadence of "he said" being about half the words of many sentences is jarring. Would much rather read this. Not the narrator's fault.
I read Mother Night probably a decade ago, in middle school, and Vonnegut's writing style has me hooked ever since. This novel, centered around a fictional Nazi war criminal named Howard W. Campbell Jr., explores many deeper issues of allegiance, belonging, identity, community, and morality. Vonnegut's style does not always translate ideally to the audiobook genre (his chapters are short and the narrative skips around a bit in a nonlinear fashion), but I still thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend.
It's written looking back in time not chronologically, but as a collection of organized memories.
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.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Any additional comments?
In places you could be forgiven for thinking your were listening to an episode of 'Allo 'Allo.
Some people insist that Vonnegut should be read and not listened to. Perhaps this recording is the reason why. If this was your first experience of Vonnegut please do not give up.
(If you want to hear some excellent work from Mr Bevine try The Fall of Hyperion)
First story I have read by Vonnegut and was very impressed I will be looking into more of his work now
Is there anything you would change about this book?
I don't think so, well I might cut the younger sister out she was irritating.
If you’ve listened to books by Kurt Vonnegut before, how does this one compare?
One of the low points. I've heard better.
Which scene did you most enjoy?
It all blurs together.
Do you think Mother Night needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?
It concluded, a companion from another character might have worked.
Any additional comments?