Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best novels of all time, Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is one of the world’s great antiwar books.

Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.

I’m not sure how many times I’ve felt let down by book summaries while being so awe-fully in love with the book itself.

Slaughterhouse-Five is quite possibly my favorite book of all time. It’s weird, sure, and horrifying, yes, but Vonnegut beautifully delivers on a very tough and deep subject. Unlike any other work of fiction, Vonnegut writes from the perspective of himself in the book’s first and last chapter. Usually, this would pull the reader out of a work of fiction. With Slaughterhouse-Five, its a reminder that, while the book is a work of fiction, its message is very real.

To me, there is no question that it is the greatest antiwar novel of all time. The horrors of Dresden in World War II were real and the trauma of warfare on those who fought in it (and any other war) is also very real. But Vonnegut doesn’t cry out the misery the way that most antiwar novels would. He presents it with insensitivity and nonchalance so that once you’ve processed the book’s events, you’re left in shock.

How can we continue to commit such horrible violence and then, just as soon as it’s happened, turn our backs on it? I think Vonnegut’s point is that we continue to commit such violence because we turn our backs on it. We refuse to take stock of what we’ve done and instead go on about our lives – even in the aftermath of death. “So it goes.”

Despite all of this heavy material, Billy Pilgrim’s story is sort of funny and oddly endearing. Even if you don’t dive into Vonnegut’s philosophy on war or the underlying tones of the novel, there’s still a story that’s largely about healing. Pilgrim clearly suffers from PTSD – though we didn’t call it that at its time – and the time-traveling hallucinations are all part of his coming to terms with that. And moving on from it. It’s a masterpiece.

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