Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut (1969)

by Chingiz Ismailov

It’s strange: I only realised the worth of the book once I had finished reading it. The language I couldn’t stand at first, it seemed childish, a little flat, but perhaps it was simply shock, as nothing in this book is as I expected it to be.

At first the anti-war message seemed a little unsubtle. When Dresden went up in flames and terraformed into something like the lunar surface, I understood why. Vonnegut was there; he had been in that eponymous slaughterhouse. The allied fire-bombing of Dresden had claimed more lives than the infamous nuclear assaults on Japan, and Vonnegut, a POW, had seen it happen. He wanted to make his message clear: never again.

Aside from this, the feeling of jumping through time was perfectly simulated (not that I’ve ever become unstuck in time, but here’s hoping). Billy Pilgrim’s stoic attitude in the face of everything that happens: his abduction by aliens, marriage, foreknowledge of his own death, is written in an unerringly entertaining way.

Once I put the book down, I stared at the ceiling for a few minutes to try and process the book in my mind. Ultimately, it’s no mere anti-war tale (though an exemplary anti-war tale it is), it’s a story of unflappability in the face of destiny, calm acceptance of fate, whether favourable or not, and smiling lovingly at the unsettling machine of determinism.

“So it goes.”