I have been meaning to read Slaughterhouse-five for years. I haven’t read anything written by Vonnegut before except a few passages from his works. So, I was very excited to finally read this novel. It has such an interesting premise and narration that it keeps you invested. It is mainly set during World War II and narrates the experience of a POW in Dresden. I am not sure how I will be able to describe the plot; it is complicated to explain. I am going to skip giving a summary in this review because I am not sure it can be done properly.
This novel is an anti-war novel infused with science fiction elements in it. Strangely, it all fits well together and makes sense. The story of Billy Pilgrim is fictional, but there is an echo of Vonnegut’s own experiences as a POW in Dresden during World War II. The book begins with Vonnegut wanting to write an anti-war novel to describe and explain the destruction caused by wars. Then it shifts to the story of Billy Pilgrim, who remains the main narrator of the novel except for the first and the last chapter. It is narrated uniquely, which confused me a little in the beginning, keeping track of the plot and characters.
The element of science fiction with the part about alien abduction seemed random, but as I read ahead, I was surprised how it correlated with the story. He time travels, and there is a time warp. The time he spends with the aliens in their prison gives him a different perspective about his time in Dresden. This part of the novel was completely unexpected for me, and even more surprising is the way, it comes together and back to the destruction caused by war. At the beginning itself, phrases like ‘unstuck in time’ crop up which I didn’t think much about when I read it, and then, it makes sense as the plot progresses.
At times, the plot has a comedic tone to it not in a war is funny sort of a way but more like humor is used to cope with the tragedies surrounding them. Billy is kept prisoner in a slaughterhouse in Dresden with other American POWs and is witness to the bombing of Dresden that almost destroyed the whole city. This concept of being a witness is something that comes up throughout the plot. The firsthand experiences of Vonnegut add authenticity to this theme of being witness to such an event. Incidences like the Dresden bombing are not talked about since the war is over and it frustrates the writer because he witnessed the destruction.
Reading this book is an incredible experience. The main crux of the novel remains that it is an anti-war book but the way it comes back to it time and again is amazing. It talks about the effect war had on society as a whole and on individuals; the sheer scale of destruction caused is not something one can even grasp properly. The writing, tone, and pace of the novel are intriguing from start to finish. It can get strange in unexpected ways, but there is a purpose to it. It is a must-read.
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