Ok. Let's just get this over with. I haven't been this sorry for reading a book since Of Mice and Men. In Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (also called "The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death"....I know), we meet Billy Pilgrim, a World War II vet who has come "unstuck" in time and constantly travels to different scenes of his life with his main storyline being his experience in the war. In the first chapter of this short, ten chapter book, we hear the author's excuse or explanation for the book--more like a preface than a chapter, really--and throughout the novel, Vonnegut acts as narrator and even inserts himself into the story on a few different occasions.
Billy Pilgrim, the main character, is captured in Germany and taken as a prisoner of war to Dresden and remained there until the infamous bombing of it a few months prior to the end of the war. During his capture and imprisonment, he frequently "comes unstuck" in time and visits scenes of his life including a few scenes from his unhappy childhood, several from his marriage and time as a widower, and many depicting his abduction by alien creatures called Tralfamadorians and the subsequent time he spent living in a Tralfamadorian zoo.
Yes. You heard that right. Billy Pilgrim was abducted by aliens and put in their zoo for their amusement. This book was so weird.
Slaughterhouse-Five has been on my Life List for some time due to its fame and also because of the controversy surrounding it. It has been ranked as one of the best English-language novels of the 20th century (it was written in 1969), but it has also been ranked as one of the most frequently challenged books and has been the subject of censorship and controversy even to this day.
After reading it for myself I have to say: I didn't like it, and I wouldn't recommend it. From a literary standpoint, it was scattered and ventured into the science fiction realm which is not my personal cup of tea. From a historical standpoint, it certainly blurred the lines between fact and fiction. Because Vonnegut was a POW at Dresden himself and inserts himself in this novel speaking from his personal experiences there, many consider Slaughterhouse-Five to be semi-autobiographical which can be a little misleading if you don't do your research. For instance, he claims several times in the book that 135,000 people were killed during the firebombings of Dresden making it more deadly than the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. Realistically, the number killed at Dresden was probably closer to 30,000. From a moral standpoint, it was cynical and caustic and crude. Anytime death was mentioned, the author famously followed it up with the fatalistic phrase "So it goes" using that phrase over 100 times in this 215-page book. And with the foul language and coarse sexual references throughout the book, it's no wonder the book has been such an object of controversy. I personally stand for freedom of speech and am against censorship, but I get why school libraries would want to ban this book.
Ultimately, I'm glad we only spent a quarter on this book (we picked it up in a used bookstore right before heading to Sarah's commissioning and graduation), and even though I can now check that one off my Life List, I don't feel any better for having read it. It was disturbing and yucky and I was pretty much over it by the end of the second chapter. This will definitely be my first and last experience with Vonnegut.
Have you read any of Vonnegut's work? What are your thoughts on censorship? Do you think there's a distinction between school libraries and public libraries? If not, why? If so, do you think it's okay for a school to ban a book from its library?