This week, I am reviewing the classic anti-war novel by Kurt Vonnegut known as Slaughterhouse-Five, also titled The Children’s Crusade. It is a rather short novel at 215 pages but, nonetheless, is life-changing.
This novel is about a man who survived the firebombing of Dresden in World War II, named Billy Pilgrim, who has become “unstuck in time.” In other words, he relives different times in his life in random order with no control of when or where he’ll be next. One moment he’s talking to his fiancé in a veteran’s hospital and the next he’s in a zoo on a planet called Tralfamadore. As Vonnegut writes on the title page:
“This is a novel somewhat in the telegraphic schizophrenic manner of tales of the planet Tralfamadore, where the flying saucers come from.”
There are three main time periods that Billy travels to: the war (most of it spent as a prisoner of war in Germany), after the war (in the hospital, with his wife, etc), and on Tralfamadore (as a middle-aged man).
What I liked about it:
Honestly, I loved the whole book but more specifically, the way the story is told. It’s very disjointed and reminds me of my favorite book, Catch-22. Like Catch-22, the atrocities of war are explained in a much more lighthearted way than you would think, but it doesn’t take away from the darkness of what happened, only emphasizes it.
I also really liked the Tralfamadorians and their perception of time; I feel like it is truly thought provoking. The inclusion of aliens in a war novel is a very odd idea although it does encourage thought about life, death, time, and the universe, among other things.
What I didn’t like about it:
There’s not much I didn’t like about this book but there are some descriptions in the book, mostly about the war, that are disturbing. I do understand that it needs to be there because, well, it’s war, but I know that some people may be turned off of the book because of it.
My overall impression:
Slaughterhouse-Five is a classic for a very good reason. It’s engaging and offers a strong commentary on war, mental illness, and society in general. While it is very similar to Catch-22, Slaughterhouse-Five offers a different perspective on war and society while still being entertaining. It’s also much less confusing than Catch-22 but that’s the reason I love both of them. I highly recommend Slaughterhouse-Five to anyone who likes thought-provoking, bizarrely humorous novels and anyone who likes Catch-22.