"Vonnegut is George Orwell, Dr. Caligari and Flash Gordon compounded into one writer" is the description that adorns most of Vonnegut's novels. Although I have no idea who Dr. Caligari and Flash Gordon are, the description is at least somewhat true with regard to the Orwell comparison. Each tome from this masterful author exposes the absurdities of society in troubling, yet uniquely humorous, ways.
Many have already discovered all that his books have to offer, but I am a bit of a late comer to the game since I so rarely read fiction. A few years ago, a friend of mine gave me the book Galapagos
to read during my vacation to the Galapagos Islands. It is one of the most bizarre stories I have ever read and, to this day, I cannot definitively say whether I liked it or not. The only thing I am certain of after reading the book is that Vonnegut must have done a lot
of drugs in his lifetime.
When I went to Egypt last January, one of my cousins asked me to bring her some Vonnegut novels since they were hard to come by in Egypt. It was a pleasant surprise that anyone in Egypt had ever heard of Vonnegut, let alone wanted to read his stuff. When I stopped in Paris for my layover on the way, my friend from law school who lives there kept one of the books and, within days, sent me a rave review of God Bless You Mr. Rosewater
Perhaps it was time to give Vonnegut another chance.Slaughterhouse Five
jumped off the shelf at the used book store a few months later and gave me a new appreciation for the literary legend. The story follows an American soldier fighting in World War II who finds himself in an abandoned slaughterhouse during the firebombing of Dresden. Zig-zagging through the soldier's past, present and future, Vonnegut develops his characters in a way that brings you into their minds for a birds-eye view.God Bless You Mr. Rosewater
is a satire about inheritance. Elliot Rosewater, the rich son of a senator, controls a family trust that becomes the subject of a family feud. Mr. Rosewater, however, is off his rocker so his chances of defeating the corrupt lawyer representing the other wing of the Rosewater family are slim. The ending is too good to give away and this book is a must read. It is entertaining from beginning to end.
A few weeks ago, Cat's Cradle
kept me company on the train. It has an end-of-the-world theme like Galapagos
and shows how the road to the end is paved with endless human stupidity. In contrast to most American tripe, there is no judgment as to whether the end is good or bad or whether some hero could have made any difference. Throughout the book, you get the sense that Vonnegut views humanity as a bunch of actors in a really bad play, who are simply playing the characters they were born to be.
It is in this book that Vonnegut coins the term "granfalloon
", which is a proud and meaningless association of human beings. Granfalloons include alumni associations, patriotism and the like. This word is both humorous and relevant to so much of the stupidity peddled in our media that I intend to appropriate it in future posts.
Currently, I am working on a non-fiction collection of speeches and observations, entitled Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons
. This is Vonnegut as himself and only confirms how insightful and enduringly satirical he is. So much is worth sharing, but a few reflections are particularly relevant -
If I were a visitor from another planet, radioing home about Earth, I wouldn't call Americans Americans. I would give them a name that told a lot about them immediately: I would call them Realtors.
I would call the Republicans Super Realtors. I would call the Democrats Inferior Realtors.
The Super Realtors, with Dr. Kissinger as their representative, have worked out crude agreements with the few other truly terrifying powers of the planet as to what can be done and what must not be done with the real estate of the meek.
The two real political parties in America are the Winners and the Losers. The people do not acknowledge this. They claim membership in two imaginary parties, the Republicans and the Democrats, instead.
Both imaginary parties are bossed by Winners. When Republicans battle Democrats, this much is certain: Winners will win.
The Democrats have been the larger party in the past -- because their leaders have not been as openly contemptous of Losers as the Republicans have been.
Losers can join imaginary parties. Losers can vote.
Losers have thousands of religions, often of the bleeding heart variety. The single religion of the Winners is a harsh interpretation of Darwinism, which argues that it is the will of the universe that only the fittest should survive. The most pitiless Darwinists are attracted to the Republican party.
Like so many Americans, she was trying to construct a
life that made sense from things she found in gift shops.
How nice - to feel nothing and still get full credit for being alive.