Slaughterhouse Five, written by Kurt Vonnegut, or also known as The Children’s Crusade, is a science historical fiction that is heavily influenced by the happenings of the Holocaust during WWII. The events in this book revolve around the main character, Billy Pilgrim, and his ceaseless and seemingly random time travel between his days in the war, being detained in the camps, his childhood, his later days working as an optometrist, his marriage and wife, his abduction by aliens, and his near-death experiences. Although this novel constantly shifts back and forth between the various points in Billy Pilgrim’s life, Vonnegut does an excellent job at maintaining a comprehensible flow and unique structure.
The most memorable part of the novel was when Billy watched a film about the American bombers in World War II and how the bombs were made, but backwards.
“American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.” (71)
This was one of my favorite parts of the book because we always think about time in a straight linear fashion, only capable of moving forward. For life, unlike movies, we can not press replay or pause or fast-forward and most of all, we can not repeat the past. But, even when in movies, we have this ability to go back and forth, we would never watch a movie backwards. Therefore, reading this section of the book intrigued me because, what if we started watching movies backwards or reading books backwards – how different would that be? What kind of experience can we gain from that? Vonnegut seems to play with this question by purposely making his novel have a story that does not occur in chronological order. By doing so, I was never bored reading this novel, because as Billy continuously traveled through time. there were many ever-changing adventures that I experienced and was trying to follow.
Another notable section of the novel was towards the end, where there was an interesting illustration that participated in the the plot.
“There was a silver chain around Montana Wildhack’s neck. Hanging from it, between her breasts, was a locket containing a photograph of her alcoholic mother – a grainy thing, soot and chalk. It could have been anybody. Engraved on the outside of the locket were these words:” (198)
After these sentences, Vonnegut included a simplistic black-and-white doodle-like image of her breasts and the locket that was engraved with the Serenity prayer. This was comically surprising because I have never read a novel that had such a crude but appropriate sketch that accompanied the story. Instead of just writing the Serenity prayer within the text, Vonnegut cleverly made a drawing of what Billy saw. When I first saw this page, I could not help but laugh; I just wish that Vonnegut had included more of these humorous sketches throughout the novel. But, I feel that this book is enjoyable the way it is. Vonnegut incorporated two other drawings that were equally humorous and well-suited to its respective sections.
One more thing I appreciated about this novel is how Vonnegut was able to take a sensitive and somber topic, and creatively produce a story that was lighthearted and comical at times, but maintained the serious and important message he desired to convey. He was able to demonstrate the brutal occurrences during the war and atrocities that the Germans committed through Billy’s strange adventures. And despite the humor at certain occasions in Billy’s journey, Vonnegut’s use of imagery condemned the Germans for their abuse in WWII, as well as denounced wars.
I highly recommend this book even if you don’t like reading. It’s a rather short novel, a little more than two-hundred pages, but it is fast-paced and very engaging.
(Quotes and page numbers are taken from the 25th Anniversary Edition of Slaughterhouse Five or The Children’s Crusade)
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